underneathI finally finished the audio book of Kathi Appelt’s critically acclaimed debut novel, The Underneath, and while I thought it was a lyrically told story I just didn’t see the appeal to kids. It took me several tries to get through it; I really had trouble getting absorbed in this story.

A beaten down boy grows into a beaten down man who is angry and violent and named Gar-Face. He lives in the middle of the Bayou where he keeps an old hound, Ranger, who is seriously abused. A pregnant cat wanders onto Gar-Face’s property and befriends Ranger. Two kittens are born, and Ranger keeps his cat familoy hidden underneath the shed where Gar-Face won’t find them (and feed them tothe alligators). When one of the kittens is seen by Gar-Face, a chain reaction of events begins.

Meanwhile, we learn the story of a magical serpent named Grandmother Moccasin, trapped in a jar under a tree for 1,000 years. She is full of hatred and bitterness, having been betrayed by her shape-shifting daughter centuries ago. The daughter fell in love with a hawk and shed her snake form to become human. The serpent mother also sets off a chain of events that will lead to her meeting Ranger and his family.

Are you with me so far? The story is beautifully narrated, but I just didn’t make the connections to the two plots. When all the storylines finally met, I was underwhelmed. This book is getting a lot of Newbery buzz this year. I’m glad I finished it, but I had trouble pushing through to the end. I just can’t imagine my students sticking with it.