Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur (2011)

One morning, after rushing to wash my face and brush my teeth with one hand, I left with only a few minute to catch the bus. I had to hurry, but instead, my steps got smaller and smaller, and slower and slower. By the time I got to the bus stop, nobody was there (p 41).

eight-keys-suzanne-efeurWhen I picked up LaFleur’s debut title, Love, Aubrey, the plot summary immediately put me in mind of another earlier book called Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis. Regardless, LaFleur’s prose and delivery were satisfying. The plot summary of her follow-up book, Eight Keys, immediately brought to mind Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by the charming Wendy Mass. But once again, LaFleur brings her own lovely prose and well-timed delivery to a tear-jerker of a story.

Elise’s mother died in childbirth. A year later, her father was diagnosed with cancer and given a year or two to live. Since she was three years old, Elise has been raised by her Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh. Every year, on her birthday, she is given a letter from her father.

But just before her twelfth birthday, everything changes. Her locker partner teases her, her best friend, Franklin, is considered babyish and her Aunt’s sister – with newborn baby in tow – comes to live with the family. Suddenly, Elise stops doing her homework, she frequently misses the bus and soon, Franklin and she are no longer friends.

Then Elise finds a key with her name on it. She soon discovers it opens one of the eight locked doors in her Uncle’s barn. What she finds will lead her into her past and allow her to solve her current crisis.

Though the keys (and the contents behind the locked doors) propel Elise toward discovery, the outstanding aspects of this novel are found in the portrayal of the bullying Elise suffers under, her change in disposition, the doubts begining to plague her and her struggles to be accepted. LaFleur evokes complex emotions without over-explaining. She writes about various topics in easily understandable and concise prose. While I was tearing up, the story itself is not overly maudlin. To some, this may seem a simple coming-of-age-story but I found it enjoyable and appropriate for those about to enter middle school.

Read my review of Love, Aubrey and Everything is Fine.

Read other reviews:
Kirkus
Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
Random Acts of Reading
So Many Books, So Little Time (includes an interview with LaFleur)

Library copy | August 9, 2011 | Wendy Lamb Books | 224 pages | ISBN 978-0385740302 | $16.99

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