“Eight Keys” by Suzanne LaFleur
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Summary from Goodreads:
Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise’s parents died when she was too young to remember them. There’s always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.
When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the bar . . .
I don’t usually read many contemporary books for some reason. When I pick up books like this, I start to wonder why I don’t read contemporary books more often. Eight Keys worked for me on so many levels. We have two big stories going on. The first story is Elise growing up. She’s starting middle school and like many others she doesn’t quite fit in. She’s at that really awkward age where she wants to still be a kid but some classmates won’t let her. Some girls bully her because she still “plays” and the biggest bully torments her daily. Her teachers aren’t much help because they don’t see the problem and only see her falling behind in her work. She’s not able to find “relief” at home because new family members move in and that messes with her family dynamic. And to top it all off she’s not getting along with her best (and only) friend. Lafluer totally nails everything about those story lines. She gets the right age voice. It doesn’t feel like an adult playing a 11/12 year old. It really feels like Elise is telling this story. I really felt all of Elise’s pains. I was totally able to empathize with her.
The other story is Elise coping with her dad’s death. Even though he’s been dead for years, she’s still having a hard time dealing with it. This wound opens up again because she discovers that her dad left her eight keys before he passed away. I loved the mysteriousness of this story line. I couldn’t tear myself away because I
wanted needed to know about the next key. It would be really easy to this story line to go corny and unbelievable. Thankfully the author was able to keep it heartfelt and believable.
I really liked Elise as a character. I really understood her. In many stories, young protagonists can come off as bratty. You just see their tempers and their bad behavior. You don’t understand why they’re acting that way. In Eight Keys, you’re with Elise as the story is going on so you’re able to feel the same things. Yes, she acts a bit bratty and awful but you understand where she’s coming from. Not to mention, I probably would have done pretty much the same things in her situation.
The bottom line? Very, very good. This is what all MG contemporary fiction should be like.