A YA Novel Exploring Family as Blessing and Burden

My Cousin’s Keeper, by Simon French, (Candlewick), 240 pages, released September 9, 2014

My Cousin’s Keeper is a problem novel. The problem—eleven-year-old Kieran’s best friend moved away two years ago and ever since then he’s been struggling to gain a place in the “in” crowd, but the arrival of his “weird” cousin Bon throws his life off-kilter. Bon is living with their grandmother, sleeping over at Kieran’s home, and attending Kieran’s school. To complicate matters, Bon has somehow managed to become best friends with the cute girl Kieran has a crush on.

Because such novels usually end happily, or reasonably so, one can predict much of the action in this book. But having a good sense of what’s to come doesn’t matter when the writing is solid and the characters are engaging—and that’s the case here.

Simon has a knack for avoiding all good/all bad dichotomies. The characters have their short-comings. For Kieran that short-coming is his willingness to participate in activities and pranks that make him uncomfortable in the hopes that doing so will cement his place in the boys’ social hierarchy.

My Cousin’s Keeper, marketed to grades 3 through 7, offers a worthwhile read for children trying to make their way in the world, who are still learning how to stand up for what they most believe in. The fact that there are two significant, strong female characters means this is a book that boys and girls both should appreciate.