Earlier this week it was my pleasure to interview, Suzanne LaFleur, the author of Eight Keys. I was immediately impressed by her desire to accomplish her youthful dream to become an author. Far too many people’s aspirations are lost along the way. If you missed reading the blog, take a few moments to catch up. Eight Keys might just be the next book that you select for your middle level reader or class.
Suzanne is participating in a book giveaway that is limited to American and Canadian readers. If you’d like to chance to win a book, don’t forget to leave a comment on this blog or on the Q & A with Suzanne LaFleur.
Most middle level readers will be able to connect with the apprehensions associated with starting at a new school and the fears and anxieties that coexist with the desire to fit in. A smaller number will be able to commiserate with the main character’s (Elise) inability to handle being bullied. However, many readers would agree with Elise when she stated, “it didn’t matter how many new kids there were at school. It took only one to ruin my life.” (Page 8)
As children mature, their friendships ebb and flow. Elise must ultimately decide what she values in her close relationships and whether a boy can be her best friend. The effect of being an orphan is another potent thread. After both of her parents died, an aunt and uncle adopted her. While even fewer readers will share that background, they will be able to appreciate the dynamics of a supportive and loving family.
Elise’s life is further complicated when her aunt’s younger sister and her baby move into the house. This event interrupts her life as a solo child. Elise is disturbed by this intrusion that shifts the spotlight to a whining baby. “Babies make me nervous. If they’re screaming because something is wrong, they cant tell you what to do about it. I’m afraid I’ll break them when I touch them. And they make me think of my mother.” (Page 53)
In most stories, the characters would directly handle the resolution of their problems. In Eight Keys, Suzanne interjects 8 mysterious keys and locked rooms with 7 messages from her deceased father to propel the story forward. The contents of these rooms and the statements help Elise gain a new understanding of her current life and simultaneously provide information about her deceased parents and Uncle Hugh.
A confluence of conflicts causes Elise’s life to spin out of control. The reader sympathizes with Elise when she sits beside her parents’ graves and says, “I’m bad at everything and nobody but my family likes me. I can’t even keep one friend.” (Page 100)
Loving adults repeatedly try to offer a more positive perspective. Her Uncle Hugh instills a sense of ownership for ones actions when he states, “Well sometimes things don’t change on their own. Sometimes we have to change them.” (Page 79) Notes and journals from her father also provide helpful advice. As Elise starts to mature, she takes more and more responsibility for her actions.
I question Elise’s response to being bullied. Early on, Elise tries to approach a teacher about a distressing situation. The teacher is unresponsive. Instead of seeking out another solution, Elise is unwilling or unable to advocate on her own behalf. Her aunt and uncle are unaware of the bullying until much later in the story. It seems unnatural that Elise would suffer without taking any additional efforts to reach out for help. Perhaps this sequence of events is meant to illustrate the destructive and paralyzing nature of bullying. Had the inappropriate behavior been curtailed early on, a major aspect of the story would have been lost.
Middle level and young adult readers who are searching for their identity will be inspired by Elise’s ability to eventually take control. They will see that change is possible once a person decides which path they would like to follow.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, July 20 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Suzanne will send the randomly selected American or Canadian winner an autographed copy of Eight Keys.