Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise's parents died when she was too young to remember them. There's always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.
When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn...
Although I've heard great things about Suzanne LaFleur's debut novel Love Aubrey Eight Keys is the first book of hers that I've read and I was eager to try what sounded like a wonderful story aimed at a young audience of pre and early teens.
The main character, eleven year old Elise, has lived with her aunt and uncle ever since her parents died at a young age and they love her as their own but Elise still has questions about her family. She has also had her best friend Franklin by her side for as long as she can remember and at the beginning of the book she is looking forward to starting at the same middle school as him. However, Elise suddenly finds him babyish but as her twelfth birthday approaches, she has many life lessons and family secrets to discover.
What I love about this book is that because it's told through the eyes of an eleven year old there is a simple quality of beauty to it, and the story is just allowed to unfold naturally without complications or description that would distract from the cast of characters or the issues of friendship, identity, fitting in and growing up that are sensitively explored.
The relationships that Elsie has built up are the most important element of the book and my favourite was the lifelong friendship between her and Franklin. They share the special bond of sharing their childhood together- playing, exploring, laughing, crying- that not many people are lucky enough to have experienced. The change in the way Elsie feels about their friendship is something that I think many teenagers will be able to understand to but I felt very sorry for Franklin about the way he was treated because he showed an unselfish loyalty that rose above the thoughts of others. It was a lovely reminder of the value of true friendship and how we should appreciate it!
All of the rest of the characters from the bully Amanda and Franklin's overprotective mum to Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh were portrayed realistically with differing personalities and authentic scenes and dialogue. For a reasonably short book with just over 200 pages, the core characters were also surprisingly well developed. It was clear that despite losing her parents, Elsie was surrounded by people who loved and cared for her and the story's events showed that family is life's gift to us and so must be treasured.
Moving to middle school is something that every teenager has to go through and everyone can relate to wanting to change yourself to fit in with other people. Elsie's experience of bullying is horrible but it carries with it the message of learning to be yourself and demonstrates the painful situations that can arise from growing up.
Using the idea of the eight keys to unlock the mysteries behind Elsie's family was a very creative and inventive way of dealing with the theme of growing up and finding yourself. It also bought an element of mystery into the book and try as I might, I was just as clueless as to what was in the eight rooms that her dad has left behind for her as Elsie was. . This part of the book was done really well and I really liked the originality and unpredictability of it.
Verdict: Eight Keys is a brilliantly moving and emotional story that shines in its simplicity and shows the importance of discovering your identity in growing up and loving your friends and family. I would recommend this thought provoking book to other people- particularly pre-teens- and look forward to enjoying more of Suzanne LaFleur's books in the future.
Rating: 4 stars