Keepsake is an intimate story about young Ella’s relationship with her grandmother and the way a summer visit redeems an old, secret tragedy. It’s also an interesting dive into the contentious issue of animal welfare within the Travelling community. Ella has fallen in love with Storm, a black horse owned and beautifully cared for by Johnny. Storm goes missing, and we gradually discover he has been taken by the Council pound. Johnny has only days to save Storm’s life. With Granny’s help, the children find out that the pound have been employing external contractors to ‘bring in’ horses: Storm has effectively been kidnapped.
Woven behind and between all this is the mystery of Granny’s sadness and the unfolding resolution of a tragedy from her past. Leyden builds a rewarding story that is both a subtle exploration of the relationships between her main characters, and a raw and provocative exploration of animal rights. All this is done well and done deftly, and the novel’s main thrust of hope, redemption, and the ability to overcome one’s challenges, makes Keepsake a fulfilling and important read.
I was, however, left with one quibble: the misleading nature of the blurb. Keepsake is not ‘fast-paced’, and its main narrative is not about two children setting ‘off on a desperate chase across Ireland’. This disingenuous representation is a real shame, because it sets Keepsake up to fail our expectations, and sows seeds of confusion and dissatisfaction for the reader, which neither serves the author, nor her fans.