The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

34522727._SY475_When seventeen-year-old Marisol pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber’s, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as “an illegal”, but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi’s, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn’t be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn’t have been caught crossing the border.

But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She’s asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It’s a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.


Content warning for suicidal ideation and attempt, violence including murder, attempted sexual assault, PTSD, depression, and homophobia.

3.5 stars

This was the group book for Latinxathon and LatinxLitTakeover and they chose well!

The good:

  • Don’t tell me all writing in YA sucks. There are some great lines here, great characterization, little moments that sing.
  • No italics for Spanish, huzzah! And the code switching is so real. I connected with it as a person living in my second language – reverting to my first for low-frequency words like “freckles”, and how mood can affect which language I default to.
  • The plot is well done. I couldn’t put the book down until I reached the 75% mark. It was like I was attached via rubberband, constantly getting pulled back. And I love how many chapters end normally, you flip the page, and the first line of the next would makes you go “whaaa?!”
  • Being speculative fiction we can examine devotion and dedication via the fantastical element of Marisol assuming someone else’s grief. It makes the unknowable visual. The use of asylum seekers for medical experimentation also ties into the ongoing history of marginalized groups being used as subjects in drug and other testing in the United States.
  • As the story goes on we see that nice people, despite being kind and well-meaning, can be part of an awful, unconscionable thing.

The not-so-good:

  • While I like the ending, it was a bit too pat for my liking.
  • After gulping the book down I gave it four stars… but for whatever reason it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I hoped. I’m not finding myself thinking about the characters or going back to reread passages. So a half star off for that.

If you like speculative fiction with plot, if you’d like to explore immigration issues from the inside out, if you want to be swept away by a story, read The Grief Keeper.