Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper is one of those odd books that I enjoyed while reading, but enjoyed much more after I'd finished it. It sticks with you, and I've thought about it a lot since putting it down. It was my first book by this author, and I'm definitely going to check out her others (Well Wished (her debut novel), and the more recent and highly acclaimed Chime), for they promise to be in the same vein: first-person writing, with an otherworldly style and an unreliable narrator, and stories based on fairy tales that aren't strict retellings (I tend to find those boring - why not just read the original?).
It's frustrating for the purposes of this review that telling you the reason I liked this book so much would be a huge and unforgivable spoiler. Let me just say that despite my recent disappointment with YA fiction, one so acute that it has led me to wonder whether I no longer like the genre, and still like old favorites simply because of nostalgia, The Folk Keeper has restored my appreciation. YA fiction still has promise; Franny Billingsley is someone to watch out for. Oddly enough, The Folk Keeper didn't feature a protagonist that I much identified with, nor, I think, were readers supposed to. Corinna Stonewall is a very interesting narrator, definitely, but I'm not sure I liked her. She had a selfish taste for secrets, power, and vengeance that often bordered on cruel - she wouldn't be a good role model, and is a far cry from the current vogue for the strong female narrator who confronts the problems of her dystopian world. At the same time, though, I respected Corinna's courage and independence, and was delighted when she worked out the secrets of her past.
The Folk Keeper is quite short - 162 pages - but it's not a fast read. Billingsley drops seemingly insignificant clues (although really, most of the secrets are not hard to figure out), but beyond them, it's worth reading this book slowly just to savor her language - choppy sentences, intuitive leaps, and all. There's a lot to ponder by the time you reach the ending. I still haven't decided whether I think Corinna's final choice was the right one, but then again, my opinion doesn't really matter; what matters is that she made it and was content. With any luck, despite my reluctance to give away my very favorite aspects of this book, I've convinced you to at least give it a try!