Safekeeping by Karen Hesse
Official Summary: “Radley’s parents had warned her that all hell would break loose if the American People’s Party took power. And now, with the president assassinated and the government cracking down on citizens, the news is filled with images of vigilante groups, frenzied looting, and police raids. It seems as if all hell has broken loose.
Coming back from volunteering abroad, Radley just wants to get home to Vermont, and the comfort and safety of her parents. Travel restrictions and delays are worse than ever, and by the time Radley’s plane lands in New Hampshire, she’s been traveling for over twenty-four hours. Exhausted, she heads outside to find her parents—who always come, day or night, no matter when or where she lands—aren’t there.
Her cell phone is dead, her credit cards are worthless, and she doesn’t have the proper travel papers to cross state lines. Out of money and options, Radley starts walking… .
Illustrated with 50 of her own haunting and beautiful photographs, this is a vision of a future America that only Karen Hesse could write: real, gripping, and deeply personal.”
Set in the near future, Safekeeping by Karen Hesse tells the story of the United States after it has been destabilized by the election of an extreme political party, the APP, and the subsequent assassination of the new president. In the wake of this upheaval, martial law is declared and the citizenry lives under restrictions on their movement. Curfews keep people in at night and even traveling to a neighboring state requires official paperwork from the government. Radley Parker-Hughes, who has been volunteering in an orphanage in Haiti since before the APP took power, returns having only heard rumors of what has happened and still disbelieving this sudden transformation of her home. When she arrives, she expects her parents to meet her at the airport and is immediately troubled when they fail to appear.
The remainder of the book traces Radley’s efforts to first make it home and then to stay safe in this suddenly threatening environment. At the beginning of the book, Radley seems to be an average teenager, if somewhat pampered and protected, but as the book traces her journey, it also traces her process of growing up and learning to fend for herself. This is not a typical action-packed dystopian novel of the sort that is currently so popular. Instead, it is a slow and quiet read, which, in some ways, seems more realistic for this different approach. Much of Radley’s time, particularly at the beginning of the book, is spent alone, which gives Hesse an opportunity to focus on Radley’s internal thoughts and the way that she matures through this hardship. The book includes many of Hesse’s own photographs to illustrate and complement the story, which works well with a narrative that is often told in small scenes and snapshots of moments. While this book is quite a bit different than the average dystopian novel, I think it will appeal to those who are interested in a quieter and more personal look at this sort of society.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
While this is clearly a carefully written and thoughtful story, I found some of its elements to be disappointing. Many details are hinted at but never fully explained, which feels real since the book is presented as Radley’s internal thoughts, but it can be frustrating as a reader to never know the details of what has transpired before the book opens. Moreover, the reader is dropped into an already existing situation that is never completely justified, which can make the book seem less believable than it otherwise would have been. In particular, the speed with which the country descends to this state and then the speed with which it returns to normal seems at times to be to convenient and a bit contrived. However, I think this book is meant to instead be read as a parable about not taking life for granted and the evils that can come from materialism and complacency. In the end, Safekeeping is less about politics and more about Radley’s personal growth and the regrets that she has about her own behavior prior to the crisis. And, on this level, the book does succeed in creating a character that seems to learn from her experiences and use them to build a better, happier life for herself.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.