Keeper Of Secrets by Sarah J Dodd is a perfect wintery Christmassy read. It’s a book that I know I will be rereading year after year to reimmerse in the tale of Emily and Lotta the Lynx Kitten.
But it also is a wonderfully thoughtful and quietly mind-shifting novel dealing with issues of grief, but also dipping its toe into the debate for rewilding lynx into the UK, something that is most cleverly and sensitively approached.
This past summer Emily’s world fell apart, now it’s crumbling again as days before Christmas, her father has taken a sabbatical job as a vet in a remote rural village far from home and everything they know and remind them of mum.
Settled into the stone cottage attached to the big house, Emily is horrified to hear of a Lynx rewilding project in the local woodland, and farmers are not pleased either with fears the big cats will take their lambs in the spring rather than the deer and forest creatures the team promise is the case.
One night returning in slushy snow Emily spots the lifeless body of a Lynx and is moved by the grief of her kitten, and despite her fear and her worries Emily decides she cannot let Lotta Spots struggle without her mother and rescues the young Lynx. The only problem is what does she do now?
I read this at bedtimes with Tinyfae who after two nights woke me up at 5am to beg me to read more because she was worried about Emily and Lotta and HAD to know what was going to happen next… if that’s not the sign of a fantastic book I don’t know what is!
I have to say how clever this book is in how it deals with both grief and the Lynx rewilding efforts. Both are dealt with gently and sympathetically, as Emily awakens to her pain being a part of life that affects so many and that recognising and caring that others grieve too doesn’t erase the loss but helps you feel less alone and softens the ache.
Equally Sarah treats the rewilding project perfectly recognising that, uninformed, many people will have a visceral reaction of the thought of predators and wild cats roaming free- concerns immediately go to threats to humans both life as in threats to walkers and children, and prosperity as through the predation upon farm animals. This is seen in Emily’s initial reaction of fear, then wonder, then fear again and it is only when she anthropomorphises Lotta that she begins to empathise with the project, similarly we see the anger and fear of the local landowners that their sheep will be killed, or in one case their grouse hunting season will be affected.
Yet Sarah gently educates in an informed and careful non-preachy way with the realities as shown by European studies especially the highly-successful Swiss rewilding projects where pasture-grazing agriculture sees very little loss from lynx predation, in fact, the biggest threat to rewilding success is from human attitudes and illegal hunting as is explored in The Keeper of Secrets so poignantly.
But slowly drip feeding truths without it appearing a lecture means we are persuaded into realising what a powerful synergistic movement it is, and how it is far more humane to control wild deer populations with a natural historically-native predator than by deer starving to death or emotive culls, and would also control the density of wild rabbit, grey squirrel and fox populations, which are equally problematic due to the absence of natural predators. Indeed it is more than simply a natural population control, because the reintroduction of predators actually enables the flourishing and support of biodiversity as less starving deer & other grazing animals means less damage to habitat through overgrazing and thus more food to go round, more habitat to develop to maturity which means more species can flourish. The big problem is human fear and misunderstanding.
The duality of themes comes through in the attachment that Emily forms to the young Lynx and how she projects her own grief onto Lotta and by doing so confronts her emotions allowing the space and growth to find breathing space from the pain and start to build a new normal and to embrace that her pain is not the only pain, and that her problems whilst important, are not the only important ones, and she is not the only person to experience grief.
It’s brutal, bittersweet and beautiful in equal measures. Sarah finds a way to not pull her punches on the reality of both grief and rural issues but keep it within the safety of Middle grade which is an art and must be applauded.
I highly recommend those who are inspired and wish to know more of UK efforts to rewilding lynx to check out this Guardian overview on the debate, the problems and attempts to reason and the Rewilding Britain website for Lynx and other hopeful projects. .
I’m excited by the voice that Sarah has found in her writing and I look forward to seeing more stories from her imagination!!
It’s also a book that has stuck firmly in Tinyfae’s mind as she has not just asked for it to be reread again and again, but also asked for a toy Lynx for Christmas AND we have added rewilding books to the library and couldn’t resist buying this Lotta Spots jumper from Tu at Sainsburys! What a powerful impact from one book!!
Check out the Instagram tour all this week including me today!!
Keeper of Secrets by Sarah J Dodd is published by Firefly Press
Thank you for my copy! 💜