Books: Keeper

>> Sunday, March 19, 2006

For the first time in a long time, I'm ahead on my reading and behind on my blogging! I have three finished books in the hopper to write about, so I better get to it . . .

I sometimes have a hard time writing about books I love. I respond to books on so many levels, that I sometimes get a little daunted trying to rave about one. I fear I won't come off as happy with a book as I really was, or conversely that I will gush and neglect to give good reasons why someone should pick a book up.

One such book I've been stuck on is Keeper, by British author Mal Peet. (Oooh - in fact, I just realized Ithe three books I've read and have yet to blog about are all by British authors. I must have England on the brain . . .)

I really enjoyed this book. One of the things I want to say about it - and I'm trying very hard here not to come off as arrogant or ego-centric - is that I hope I have accomplished with Samurai Shortstop what Peet does here with Keeper.

On the surface, Keeper is a soccer story. Goalie extraordinaire El Gato sits in a small hotel room recounting not only how he's just won the World Cup, but also how he came to be the keeper he is today.

What follows is a story filled with mystery and magic - yes, magic. We learn that as a boy, he discovered a ghostly presence in the jungle outside his small South American village, a ghost that teaches him with almost desperate authority how to be the best goalie (keeper) in the world. It's an odd premise, but the story unfolds in startling and endearing ways, eventually encompassing issues as big as deforestation and as small as leaving home and family for good.

For me, this is the ultimate kind of sports book. It escapes the cookie-cutter realm of "team is disorganized, team becomes organized, team overcomes odds to win big game." My book has these elements despite all my efforts to escape them, but I hope in the end these are not what the book is about, and instead means to a different end.

Keeper manages to break free of this mold altogether. Even winning the World Cup isn't so important that we have to re-live every moment of the "big game." It's the consequences of the game, and the keeper's development as a person and a goalie, that are far more important in the long run. By focusing on the boy and the greater issues he resolves through his keeping skills, this story transcends its own genre. It's a fantastic book to put in the hands of any boy who's ever played youth soccer, or just any boy who ever sought his place in the world on a playing field.


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