The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

After hearing about the horrific dog beating in Vancouver, I was mortified by the hateful things people can do to other living creatures. If you have any difficulty dealing with animal abuse, The Underneath may not be for you, but I really urge you to give this enchanting children’s novel a try.

Your heart will break over and over again. This beautiful story is about a sad dog named Ranger, the calico cat who became is only friend, and her rambunctious little kittens.

Ranger is chained to the house of his master, an abusive man named Gar Face, who is obsessed with hunting alligators. Then, one day an abandoned and pregnant cat hears him singing a song of loneliness, is drawn to his voice and they quickly become friends.

Ranger is frequently beaten, left to starve for days at a time. The cat is his salvation, physically and emotionally. She provides small rats and squirrels for sustenance, and much needed companionship. I was blubbering like an idiot only a few chapters in, because Appelt’s description of Ranger’s sadness, the pain of the chain around his neck, is so beautifully written that I had tears streaming down my face before I could stop myself.

The calico kittens, Sabine and Puck, are absolutely adorable but, beyond their youthful curiosity, they are fiercely loyal and loving.

Running alongside this amazing story about Ranger is a unique tale of mythology that goes back thousands of years, and in the end the two plot lines collide in the most unexpected way.

Please read this book, if only to meet Ranger, the hound with a heart filled with kindness and determination, goodness, not just gold. Ranger is beyond gold. He’s pure and good and tender and beautiful.

Ranger didn’t hear him. Every inch of his body was wreathed in a halo of pain. He sucked in air, sucked it past his swollen tongue. His nose was now completely shut. He knew that the gator would come sooner or later. He had been on hunts for gators. Had seen Gar Face stake out an animal, just as he was now staked out. He knew that the blood dripping from his mouth would lure the beast eventually. He only hoped it would be fast. And like the man slumped against the tree, the old dog closed his eyes.

A dog who has been beaten with a board, who has walked over a mile on legs that trembled with pain, who has gasped for air with every step, deserves something kind, doesn’t he? A dog who has been true to those he loved, and even the one he didn’t, who did his job without complaint, should have some comfort in the midst of so much misery. Such a dog is worth of this much. Of something sweet. When Sabine saw that Gar Face was sound asleep, she slipped out from her hiding place and curled up under one of Ranger’s long silky ears. She purred to him as hard as she could. She licked the side of his soft face, licked the blood off his nose, she put her nose next to his nose. She loved him as hard as she could. With all her might, she loved Ranger.

Please excuse me. I’m starting to cry again. Just typing those two paragraphs made me choked up. “She loved him as hard as she could.” Doesn’t that just break your heart in two? Crumble into pieces? I was a puddle of tears for at least half of this book. It was torture to read of Sabine’s incredible love, and Puck’s tenacity, and Ranger’s… well, his angelic determination. He tries so hard to please his master, who only repays that loyalty with a swift kick to his bony ribs and a handful of cheap dog food.

But your tears will be rewarded; I promise.

And you know what I’m going to do when I finish this review? I’m going to hug my dog, make sure the water in her bowl is cool and fresh, give her a treat, make sure she’s comfortable in this sticky, humid heat. Because she matters. All creatures matter. And they do not deserve to be beaten. Ever. Never ever.

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5 thoughts on “The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

    • Sorry to start the waterworks, Sandra, but oh my goodness. This book is hard to read but it’s one of those stories that makes you feel lucky to have found it.

      And thanks for the kind compliment! Glad to help!

  1. Abuse of any kind is always hard to read about but there is something especially horrible about abuse towards children and animals. When I was five, I remember a neighbor throwing a pot of boiling water over his dog because he wouldn’t stop barking. Did the guy get arrested? No, but the dog wandered the neighborhood for weeks and everyone called him “Buster” because of the blisters covering his body. No one could catch him and then he just disappeared. I cried for weeks.

    • Oh my god! That’s awful! Those sorts of stories/experiences make me so angry, and frustrated because I can’t do anything about it. I had relatives in the country who I visited occasionally and the neighbourhood dog would come and visit us all the time, mainly because we gave her attention, hugged her, and made her feel wanted/loved. Apparently, her owners ignored her, left her outside and hit her all the time. We always made sure to give her some extra love when she came ’round.

  2. Pingback: Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman « The Literary Lollipop

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