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 barn . . . (From Goodreads.com)
I haven’t read Suzanne LeFleur’s previous book Love, Aubrey but I was aware it had received a lot of critical acclaim. I’m determined to remedy that fact soon though, because I adored everything about Eight Keys - the beautiful writing, the simplistic yet touching story, the sentiments behind it and the believable characters with very real anxieties and concerns.
What struck me about the book was how genuinely touching it was. Elise is an incredibly believable eleven-year-old girl. While set in the US, and going through the transition of moving to middle school, children of the same age in the UK will recognise and sympathise with the same big step of starting secondary. I was reminded of my own experiences at that age…moving from the secure, protective cocoon of my Junior school, encountering other children who were more worldly and tougher and even the same embarrassment of some of my seemingly babyish friends who only a few weeks ago I’d been happy playing dolls or chase with out in the street. It’s a daunting time, and LaFleur fully understands that, capturing those emotions perfectly in Elise.
Despite being aimed at middle grade readers, there are two striking and important messages in Eight Keys that I believe any one of any age can benefit from. Firstly is of family and belonging, what it means and how love is unconditional. Elise never knew her parents, and desperately needs to know if she was loved by them while accepting that the family she does have love her for herself and not because the feel obligated to do so. The second is of acceptance, accepting other people and trying to understand them and accepting yourself. I loved the idea of the eight keys, each revealing a philosophical piece of advice which isn’t just relevant to Elise, but even as an adult struck a chord.
Eight Keys is one of the most quietly powerful books I’ve read in a long time. The underlying messages are subtle and dawn on the reader along with Elise in her journey of discovery. I found it an emotional read, my heart breaking at times for Elise as she appears lost, but also extremely hopeful and inspiring. The story isn’t action packed, shocking or exciting…yet it crept right under my skin and stayed there. I’ll be putting this book away for my daughter to read when she’s older and hope she finds it as touching and as empowering as I did.
Published by Puffin August 2011
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.