The Underneath by Kathi Appelt is the story of Ranger, the dog who lives underneath the dilapidated house of Gar Face, the meanest man on the planet (whose goal it is to capture and kill the giant alligator living in the lake). After mis-stepping during a hunting excursion with Gar Face, Ranger (who was shot in the leg during the incident) has been tied underneath the house by a steel chain. One day he makes a friend when a pregnant and lonely cat hears Ranger’s baying, finds him, and befriends him. She and her kittens Puck and Sabine become a family. But much danger awaits them once they leave the underneath. The third story line weaving through this intricate tale is that of Grandmother Moccasin, whose selfish love for her daughter ends tragically.
The story has many elements of mythology, including entire (short) chapters that describe the trees and their feelings, their experiences, and their abilities. The storyline of Grandmother Moccasin includes shape-shifting and a Native American tribe. The imagery, mythology, and language are all quite beautiful.
This is one of those books you either love!or HATE!! (Just read the reviews at Amazon.) I am sad to say that while I am glad I read it, I definitely lean more towards the “nay” side. I do not think this book is appropriate for readers ages 9-12 (as the publishers claim), nor does it flow the way a book should. The plot jumps from the Grandmother Moccasin’s life from “a thousand years ago” to the modern-day plot of Ranger and the kittens. It was a bit hard to follow because there were no transitions between plot lines or time periods. You just had to remember that there were three plots and two time periods to follow.
I read this book as a member of the 1Book1Community committee. I understand that the book is a multiple award winner, and I see exactly why it is. But this is not a book I would recommend to young readers, or even most adults, for that matter. This is definitely a book for folks who enjoy well-written literature, not “a good story”.