Book Review: The Keening by A. LaFaye

7571249Title: The Keening
Author: A. LaFaye
Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult, Drama, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Publication Date: April 1st 2010
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Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by publisher through Netgalley.

Born into a family with artistry in their fingers, Lyza laments that her only talent is carving letters into wood. That is until her life is turned upside down when her mother succumbs to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which is devastating their small coastal town in Maine. With her mother gone, Lyza must protect her eccentric father, who runs the risk of being committed, especially now that he claims he’s waiting for the return of his dead wife. Can Lyza save her father and find her own path in the process?

Lyza’s father is a peculiar man, blessed with the ability to create the most beautiful cravings in wood, and cursed with a feeble mind, often forgetting things as normal as eating, sleeping or other everyday activities. All her life, Lyza’s been used to his behavior, and although she occassionally worries about his strange habits, she isn’t overly concerned, as long as her mother is around to bring her father back to the right track. However, with the influenza pandemic tormenting numerous villages on the coast, Lyza’s family is not left unharmed either. After nearly succumbing to the illness herself, Lyza makes a miraculous recovery, which makes her all the more sensitive to the harm the sickness has caused her community. But then, without any proper warning, her mother gets ill as well. As her mother dies from the illness she survived, Lyza is the only one left to take care of her father.

It proves not to be an easy task, with her father expecting the swift return of his dead wife and insisting on waiting up for her practically every evening. But he does try: he prepares food for Lyza, he protects her as well as he can, etc. As the true nature of her father’s condition slowly reveals itself to Lyza, and old, banished memories resurface, she learns that her father might not be crazy after all.

The Keening starts with a haunting and eerie occurence, namely Lyza seeing a dark shape in her bedroom on the day a funeral march passes by her house. As the mood is set, even though the next couple of chapters deal with Lyza’s family life and her father’s peculiar illness, the book never really loses that haunting and eerie tone. Even while reading scenes from Lyza’s day-to-day life, I was always expecting for something to pop out of the closet, as to speak, or for something scary to happen. That said, the fact that these events didn’t really occur, but that I kept anticipating them, made this book read more like a thriller than anything else. I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and when it finally did, I was certainly not dissapointed. I had expected it, but I was actually quite releived when it dropped – I couldn’t have made it through another fifty pages without any secrets revealed.

The book is written in a dream-like, translucent tone of voice, which is very peculiar, but only adds to the eerie atmosphere set from chapter one. The author mentioned that this book came to her in a dream, and I think that’s very plausible, considering that it reads a bit like that as well. I enjoyed the writing style and although I must admit it might not work for every genre or every book, it certainly fit this one.

Lyza is one of the strongest, most determined and intelligent book characters I’ve ever come across. Even while looking in the face of death, she does not back down. She has the courage and determination most of us can only dream of, and she manages to be there for her father, even when she herself is nearly breaking down. On numerous occassions, the most important one being the death of Lyza’s Mother, The Keening brought tears to my eyes. Part of that was due to the gripping, truthful way the author manages to capture the character’s emotions and the situation at hand, and it was also partly due to the fact that I liked Lyza’s mother so much. I had grown to like her over the course of fifty-or-so pages, and I didn’t want her to die just yet. She made an interesting character, a mother through and through, wise, caring, thinking about everything and always being there for Lyza to rely on.

I loved the fact how The Keening mixed paranormal and supernatural occurences with historical fiction. At the beginning of the story, Lyza loved her father, but she couldn’t really understand him. I’m glad their relationship got better as Lyza, bit by bit, uncovered the secrets related to her father’s life before he met her mother, and the reasons why he is still acting so peculiar now and then. It was heart-wrecking to see her fight to not let her father get taken away from her. I have to admit that I liked the last fifty or so pages best, when Lyza discovered what exactly her father’s secret was. I can’t say that without giving away too much spoilers, but I can say that everything suddenly makes sense then, and that what I had been anticipating from page one (although by then I didn’t know what it would be yet) turned out to be even more scary than I imagined.

If you enjoy horror, not the bloody gore-type horror, but the slow, eerie atmospheric horror that struggles its way into a book, and keeps its presence there from page one till the very end, The Keening is definately a nice choice. I enjoyed reading the book, I loved the characters, and I thought it was great that, besides a scary story, this book offers so much more. It offers a family in peril, a disease slaughtering entire villages, an emotional roller-coaster, and the slight possibility that maybe the supernatural has something to do with it. A great and entertaining read.


  1. This looks pretty good. Great review 😀 Don’t be a stranger; stop by my blog and say hi sometime.
    Looking forward to hearing back from you,
    Cory @ Anti-Drug Reads

  2. This looks fantastic. I’m adding it to my tbr list. Thanks for an informative post.

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