The Underneath

Kathi Appelt, Author, Gabra Zackman, Read by
Kathi Appelt, Author, Gabra Zackman, Read by , read by Gabra Zackman. Simon & Schuster Audio $29.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7435-7208-8
Reviewed on: 07/28/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008

On the page, Appelt's first novel, about abused animals and set in a Deep South swamp, reads like it might be spoken with a pronounced twang. Zackman's interpretation, however, is so mellifluous that it sounds like a lullaby. That smooth delivery strikes a discordant note with the material, a story that braids three dark narrative strands: the vodka-swilling Gar Face's battle with the 100-foot-long Alligator King; Gar Face's abused, chained hound dog's ill-fated shepherding of a mother cat and her kittens; and the thousand-year imprisonment of Grandmother Moccasin, a serpent so selfish she resents her daughter falling in love. The even-keel delivery also makes it hard to keep track as the story shifts among the myriad points of view, which include those of the villain, a family of shape-shifters, various animals and sentient trees. Appelt's stylistic choice to use repetition as a construct—“This cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate...”—makes for a monotonous audio experience, and her use of words such as “goldy” (to describe sunshine) makes this disquieting book sound precious. Ages 9–12. Simultaneous release with the S&S/Atheneum hardcover. (May)

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