Three Books About Self Discovery: Keeper, Sarah’s Key, & Eat Pray Love

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Three books about self discovery: Keeper, Sarah’s Key, and Eat Pray Love. In each book the characters are searching for who they are and what they want in life. Isn’t it interesting that when we get lost all we want to do is run away to find ourselves. Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves. ~Henry David ThoreauIn each book the sad characters are searching for happiness and see through all the bad in the world. There is always much more good, acceptance and willingness from people than meets the eye. This makes the world a better place.Ten year old Keeper, forty-five year old Julia Jarmond, and thirty-four year old Elizabeth Gilbert are characters from these three books that each reel from depression caused by missing something in their lives; they’re searching for love and love lost. I don’t think everyone always finds what they’re looking for when they run away; but sometimes that’s the best thing for a person, clear the mind and start over with fresh new scenery.

I think of other similar popular female characters that are “searching” for something bigger. Francis Mayes’

Under the Tuscan Sun and Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, each find happiness and find themselves with the help from friends (we need our friends).

The first book, Keeper, is a story about a ten year old girl who lives on the Texas coast with her guardian, Signe and dog BD (best dog). Everyone is looking forward to the next “blue moon” but no one more than Keeper, who sails away to find her birth mother Meggie Marie. Keeper believes her real mother is a mermaid capable of making everything right. Signe (Keeper’s adoptive mother) lets her think this, so Keeper grows up believing in mermaids and fairytales. “When a girl is ten, she is full to the brim with wishes.” Keeper wishes on stars, fishes, the moon, toothfairies…My friend’s daughter, Samantha is an avid reader and writer. With Keeper being a young adult book, I couldn’t wait to hear what she thought. Thirteen year old Samantha Rider says this about KeeperThe ending was surprising and not what I thought it would be at all. I enjoyed the plot with the mer-tales thrown in and believed that it was a whimsical fiction. I almost felt like the end wasn’t really the end….almost as if it had something else to offer. Keeper had mystery in it and a huge dose of reality. I liked it and think that others my age might as well.When Keeper has a bad day and everything she does goes wrong, she hurts each one she is close to. I remember being ten and how the tiniest things felt like an earthquake? Well with Keeper, her Earth really does quake; a single day just keeps getting worse.

There is magic and wonderment in this book. When reading Keeper I happened to be in Galveston; Keeper was the perfect beach read. Appelt’s writing feels like the tide, soothing and comforting. With seagulls eating watermelon and magic in the water, you start to believe like you did when you were ten. Young adults have a natural joie de vivre that I wish I could still easily call upon and exploit at thirty-four.

I loved Keeper’s adopted mother Singe; she is strong and loving. I love her response to Keeper’s questions; when Signe doesn’t know the answer she always says, “That is a question for the universe.”

I was lucky enough to have contact with Keeper’s author, Kathi Appelt. I know you will enjoy this Q & A.

1. When we are young, the tiniest things seem to feel like the end of the world. I think a lot of young adults go through this “searching for something” faze. Did you?

In many ways I feel like I’m always searching for something, whether it’s the pencil I just had in my hand or the answer to what my character needs to do next. It’s in us as humans, I think, to always be looking both outside and inside ourselves and perhaps nowhere is this more acute than when we’re young adults. The pressure from the outside world is also intense, isn’t it? From the moment our children are born, we start imagining what they’re going to be when they grow up. We look at a baby’s tiny fingers and say, “oh, she’s going to play the piano.” So, I think we burden ourselves and our kids with “what are you going to do?” and “who are you going to be?” questions. It’s hard for human beings to just be. On the other hand, we’re also dreamers, us humans, and it’s likely impossible to not ask these essential questions. In Keeper’s case, she needed a lot of answers. Because she believed that her real mother was a mermaid, she needed to know what that meant for herself? Was she also mer? So, Keeper needed to figure out how she could balance those parts of herself–mer and human–and even whether or not she could balance them at all. She felt the only way to an answer was to find her biological mother.

2. Do you think after Keeper’s revelation she knows who she is?

I think she might be a little closer to an answer, but she is only ten years old, so she will have a lifetime of asking that question and trying to answer it. Does she still need to search for herself? Absolutely, all of us do. Only in Keeper’s case, she will know for certain that the people who have been caring for her all along will never desert her, even if she makes some big mistakes. And isn’t this a gift to any child, that certainty, that love persists even in the face of disappointment and messing up? 3. Would you like to see Keeper on the big screen?

Be still my heart. 4. What character in Keeper are you most like?

In some ways I’m like Keeper just because she reminds me of how I was as a child. My grandmother lived in Galveston, and so I spent a lot of time there, and I felt like I was seeing the coast again through Keeper’s eyes. But the character I felt most close to was Signe. I understood her as a mother, and I believed in her as a mother too. There was never any question in my mind that she would always be there for Keeper. I also understood her feelings of inadequacy, which I think every mother feels. 5. I recently saw Eat Pray Love with my book club. Do you have a word?

I haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, but I think my word might be gratitude. I try to be grateful every single day. What do you think Keeper’s word is? Hah! I think it’s cooleoleo. 6. What’s your take on encouraging a love for reading and writing in elementary schools and beyond?

I love to tell kids (and adults too), that we are the “story animals.” No other animals, so far as we know, tells stories. We know that other animals communicate. They give warnings. They mark trees. But we’re the only ones who create stories. That means that it’s our stories that make us most human. It’s in us to tell them and to celebrate them. And we’ve been participating in the act of story since our early caveman days. So, I think if we can let our students know that stories are in us, that we’re made up of stories, and that our job is to figure out how to best tell them, then maybe that would be helpful. Being a teacher, this is my favorite question! My second grade team teachers would all agree, writing is the hardest subject to teach. It goes hand in hand with reading, but oh, how to light the fire?!? My motto for all of my students, young and old alike is to “write like your fingers are on fire.” What I mean by that is to write quickly, and write a lot, so that when you’re done, you have to blow on your smoking fingers to cool them down. Later, once a draft is on the page, once the fire of creation is past, then slow down, be deliberative, roll the words and sentences around in your mouth so that you can feel them, feel the rhythm of them. I like to write in quick, five-minute chunks of time, and I’ve found that helpful too. It feels manageable and leads to success. A lot can happen in five minutes. I see writing and reading as the great twin sisters. You can’t have one without the other. They’re intrinsically twinned.

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The second “searching for something book” was Sarah’s Key a haunting story that will make you a better and more grateful person.

July 1942 marked a dark period in the history of France where thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and forcibly kept in the Velodrome d’Hiver. They were then sent off to transit camps in France such as Drancy, before being packed off to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp. What is so disarming about this whole incident is that the rounding up and accumulation of French Jews for deportation was done by the French police.Based upon this rarely mentioned, little known truth of French history, author Tatiana de Rosnay weaves two stories together–both searching for something; alternating between the past and the present. The past centers around a ten-year-old Jewish girl Sarah Strazynski who is forced to go to the Velodrome d’Hiver with her mother and father, naively leaving behind a four year old brother Michel locked in a secret cupboard with the assurance that she would return to let him out when it was safe. The character in the present, Julia Jarmond, wishes to find Sarah, “I wanted to say sorry, I wanted to tell her I could not forget the round up, the camp…Sorry for not knowing.”

Julia is an American journalist married to a Frenchman; she finds herself being consumed by the story of the Vel d’Hiv roundup. As she digs deeper, she discovers dark secrets surrounding her husband’s family which are connected to the deportations of Jews from France.

Did you know…France is the country where the largest number of Jewish children were saved and hidden by French people, like Sarah. These people then became “Justs of the Nation.”

I have heard Sarah’s Key might be made into a movie. Like Eat Pray Love, I will be anxious to see it with my book club friends.

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The third “self discovery” book I’ve connected is Eat Pray Love. I have read since it was published that people have been following in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footprints and traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia. After reading and seeing the movie, I too want to savor the good foods, smell the cities, and soak up the sights. I loved seeing Julia Roberts eat: pizza, gelato, chocolate, and Thanksgiving turkey…Whatever she ate she tasted it like she might never taste it again. My favorite lines from Eat Pray Love were, “Every word in Italian is like a truffle.” And having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.” Both are ridiculously true!The sense that what you do becomes who you are can be depressing if you don’t like your job. Your job just might be a metaphor for your lifestyle. Gilbert had to run away from hers. I certainly wouldn’t! I do however like what she says about happiness…”Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

Eat Pray Love is an autobiography; Gilbert is the subject. Fresh out of a quarrelsome divorce, a short-lived romance and a bout of depression, she decided at thirty-four to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. “I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well. I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two,” says Gilbert.

I could relate to Gilbert trying to meditate and having difficulty because her mind would not be still… Gilbert, thinking about painting her future meditation room says, “paint it gold. Or maybe a rich blue. No, gold. No, blue. . . . Finally noticing this train of thought, I was aghast. I thought: . . . How about this, you spastic fool — how about you try to meditate right here, right now, right where you actually are?” I can hear my yoga teacher telling me to count my breaths but I still feel my thoughts wondering…things to add to my grocery list, laundry to do, what to make for dinner… A woman’s mind is seldom still.What I couldn’t relate to was Gilbert’s struggle to continually not be able to get it together. She was on a search to find and heal herself from a severe emotional and spiritual crisis. I found her to be selfish and needy and I couldn’t relate to that! What I could relate to is the need to travel; the need to have your five senses awaked somewhere else, the need to hear another language… I don’t need it right now like Elizabeth Gilbert, but I need to look forward to it (and I do)! I can be content with that.

Like some of these characters, we all have a word. What’s yours? Do you think it’s possible to choose a word that will keep its truth for a lifetime? I have a strong feeling my word will do just that. Gilbert’s word is “antevasin” (Sanskrit for one who lives at the border), Keeper’s word is “Cooleoleo,” I think both Sarah and Julia’s word would be “past.” After thinking long and hard I’m very happy with my word…”culture!” What’s your word?

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