The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley

The Folk KeeperReading level: 5.8
Lexile: 690
Genre: Fantasy
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

She is never cold, she always knows exactly what time it is, and her hair grows two inches while she sleeps. Fifteen-year-old Corinna Stonewall–the only Folk Keeper in the city of Rhysbridge–sits hour after hour with the Folk in the dark, chilly cellar, “drawing off their anger as a lightning rod draws off lightning.” The Folk are the fierce, wet-mouthed, cave-dwelling gremlins who sour milk, rot cabbage, and make farm animals sick. Still, they are no match for the steely, hard-hearted, vengeful orphan Corinna who prides herself in her job of feeding, distracting, and otherwise pacifying these furious, ravenous creatures. The Folk Keeper has power and independence, and that’s the way she likes it.

One day, Corinna is summoned by Lord Merton to come to the vast seaside estate Cliffsend as Folk Keeper and family member–for she is the once-abandoned child he has been looking for. It is at Cliffsend that Corinna learns where her unusual powers come from, why she is drawn to the sea, and finally, what it means to be comfortable in her own skin. Written in the form of a journal, The Folk Keeper is a powerful story of a proud, ferociously self-reliant girl who breaks out of her dark, cold, narrow world into one of joy, understanding, and even the magic of romance.

I usually cut down the long goodreads summaries if they are long, such as this one, but I decided to copy in the entire length because any outside information given to me helped me understand this story. The Folk Keeper isn’t exactly a difficult, confusing read plot-wise, but I was confused about who the Folk were, what they did and how they did it, and just more about the world in which Corinna lives.

Something else that confused me was Corin vs Corinna – at least at the beginning. The summary says our narrator is a girl, but at the beginning we learn she is a he. Well, she was born a girl but took on a male identity in order to be a Folk Keeper. That was just one of the confusions I had with this book that eventually ironed itself out.

Like I said before, the one big confusion that I didn’t figure out (that we’re not meant to know) is more about the Folk. They’re monster-gremlins that live in dark places underground and somehow cause havoc without being seen and must be watched and tended to by a Folk Keeper. That’s as far as I got and is as far as I’m supposed to get. I just felt like there are more I was supposed to understand.

That said, The Folk Keeper is an astoundingly beautiful and carefully-written story. It’s a diary/journal-style book, but I often forgot that it was a journal because it reads much like a typical novel, if that makes sense. Fictional diaries are often very choppy to me, but not this one.

Corinna is a fantastic character. I don’t recall a fiercer, more intelligent character, male or female. We see her fierceness recede at the end, but she’s still her strong-willed self. The ending really scared me, actually. I thought she was going to give up her identity in order to be with the boy she loves, but she doesn’t! Not entirely, anyway. I loved that she wrestles with her identity and purpose before realizing she doesn’t have to be one thing, or one kind of person. She can be a combination of identities that forms her unique identity. In that way, The Folk Keeper is a touching coming of age story with just a touch of romance.

Let’s talk teacher stuff, now. I don’t know how Scholastic levels their books, but I rather disagree with their reading level. I think it’s at LEAST at 6th grade, if not above. The vocabulary and syntax is complex and old-fashioned, making it not ELL-friendly. The highlight of this story is learning about Corinna’s world through the gorgeous writing, which makes me think kiddos may not want to read or stick with it. I would recommend The Folk Keeper for strong, careful readers, in middle school or high school, who could use a challenge.

The Folk Keeper is my twenty-first book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish, which means I have met the lower end of my goal for this challenge. And it’s only March!

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