The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Marisole and her sister Gabi have fled to the United States under threat from a homophobic gang. They are undocumented immigrants, and in order to stay, Marisole agrees to an experimental procedure that transfers the grief of another person into her. When she meets this person, Rey, a girl who also lost her brother to death, the two bond. Rey grows to recognize how Marisole was exploited, and the two fall in love.
Queer, young adult, contemporary
Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen, an elderly expat who had employed Marisol's mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber's, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as "an illegal", but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi's, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn't be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn't have been caught crossing the border.
But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She's asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It's a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.
The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.
Marisole's love for her sister drives her, and the bond between them was a realistic sibling relationship. The backstory of the true horror of what happened with Marisole's brother and the gang leader is revealed slowly, with hints and foreshadowing sprinkled throughout. I would have liked more information on it, but it wasn't the main plot. However, it was woven in very well.
Rey was a hard character to like at first, but her trauma is understandable, and after she begins to heal and recognize how others are being exploited she is an entertaining character.
The book explores grief and the ways in which we deal with it. Rey and Marisole move through their grief in different ways but connect over it. The notion of transferring grief to another is fascinating. I would have liked this aspect of the story explored in greater detail, but it was still lovely.
This book gets little attention. I found it by accident in Powell's. It's disappointing, since it's a lovely read and covers important issues in a way that doesn't feel forced. One would think with the stunningly beautiful cover people would be more inclined to pick it up.
In conclusion, a nice, touching story on moving through grief and the different ways we cope with it.