The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante | Teen Ink

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante MAG

October 7, 2019
By WK9232015 GOLD, Amherst, Massachusetts
WK9232015 GOLD, Amherst, Massachusetts
10 articles 0 photos 10 comments

Favorite Quote:
Never underestimate a well read woman

Alexandra Villisante’s novel, The Grief Keeper, is an illuminating story about two undocumented immigrant girls with a sci-fi twist. Villasante successfully blends science fiction, realistic fiction, and lesbian romance,into a masterpiece. 

The story begins in a detention center in Pennsylvania. Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her twelve-year-old sister Gabi are seeking asylum in the United States following the murder of their brother by a gang in El Salvador. They fled with no belongings and braved the harrowing journey to the border, riding in trucks with smugglers and walking miles in the hot sun. 

After successfully running away from the detention center, they are picked up by the mysterious Indiraine Patel. Patel offers Marisol asylum for both her and her sister in exchange for Marisol participating in a risky study of a new medical procedure. Marisol agrees to become a grief keeper, taking someone else’s grief into her own body, to keep her sister safe. She knows she is being used, but she is desperate. They can’t go back and she would do anything for her sister, but everything changes when she meets the girl whose grief she’s supposed to be taking away; Marisol never expected to fall in love. 

Villasante uses flashbacks throughout the book to help Marisol’s full backstory come into view. From the beginning it’s clear there’s something she’s hiding from the immigration officials, but the mystery remains until the end of the book. The queer love story is a stark contrast to the story of trauma in El Salvador and the bias Marisol now faces in the U.S. Villasante adds all the right elements to make it a good story; she accurately depicts an illegal border crossing, and every character has a motive behind their actions. She describes love that can relieve pain and love that can drive us to cause it. 

Villasante’s book is vivid, moving and includes all the stories we don’t hear enough in young adult literature. I would recommend The Grief Keeper to anyone who is interested in LGBTQ+ stories, immigration, and reading a story that’s truly a reflection of the times we live in. For those familiar with The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Grief Keeper follows a similar theme: how we, as Americans, hold each other’s stories. For me, Marisol and Gabi represent modern America and all the different stories we hold. I recommend this book for ages 13 and up because it contains many stories of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide. It is not a light read; it’s one that will leave you shaken and changed, and will show you how to look at the world with new eyes. 

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