Review Blog

Dec 20 2011

Eight keys by Suzanne LaFleur

cover image

Puffin, 2011. ISBN 978-014-134203-0.
(Age 10+) Recommended. Realistic. Bildungsroman. I thoroughly enjoyed Lafleur's book, Love, Aubrey and consequently I was very happy to get the opportunity to read Eight keys. This is the story of Elise, almost 12 years old, and just entering middle school. She and Franklin have always been best friends, playing medieval Knights, roaming in the woods and using their imaginations. On her first day in the new school, an encounter with a popular girl, Amanda, who scoffs at the scabs she has on her arms from playing Knights, and calls her a baby, suddenly leaves Elise feeling an outsider, wondering if her friendship with Franklin is babyish. Her schoolwork suffers, and she becomes very unhappy. Although her parents are dead, she has a loving aunt and uncle and adult friends as a support system but she doesn't feel that she can tell them just how bad the bullying at school has become. The only thing that keeps her going is the discovery that the key she has spied in her uncle's barn, is labelled with her name and opens one of the eight mysterious locked rooms at the top of the building.
Lafleur's narrative flows gently and easily, pulling the reader in as she explores what it is like for Elise to move from a small school, where everyone knew her and where she felt safe, to a large school where the teachers didn't seem to care and where she becomes the victim of bullying.The bullying is both verbal and physical and Elise is unable to cope with it. She retreats from her best friend Franklin and doesn't stand up for him and tell the truth when it really counts. This exploration of bullying and the nature of friends will resonate with younger readers as will the exploration of peer pressure.
At home, Elise is jealous of the new people in her aunt and uncle's lives, especially the baby, and questions whether they really want her. It is not until she uncovers the secrets of the eight keys that open the mysterious rooms that she can come to terms with herself and begins to appreciate the love and friendship that surrounds her. A father going to the trouble of preparing rooms and keys to show a daughter how much she is loved and the type of girl she could grow up to be is a very beautiful and poignant idea. There are some heart wrenching moments that had me in tears and some funny moments as well.
I really loved this wonderful exploration of friendship, family and growing up. Combined with a touching look at the awful consequences of bullying, these relevant issues make this a very satisfying book for the younger reader.
Pat Pledger

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