Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales knows all about bad luck. Her father "gambled and drank," forcing her older brother, Pablo, to join a gang to provide for the family. Then Pablo was killed by the gang. Terrified, Marisol and her sister, 12-year-old Gabriela, used all of their money to pay coyotes to take them to the United States. After surviving the trek, Marisol is told she and Gabi might be allowed to stay if she will test a "biomedical device" designed to help people with PTSD; the treatment "allows the chemicals... released into the body of a person suffering trauma... to be transferred to another person." That is, Marisol would take on another person's grief in exchange for a green card. Seeing no other option, Marisol agrees: "What is a little grief in exchange for safety?"
The sufferer is Rey Warner, a wealthy 17-year-old. She is suicidal after her twin brother's death but refuses to give up her grief for fear of losing her brother. If Rey won't use the device, Marisol has no deal, so it falls to her to convince Rey to relieve her burden. The two slowly develop a relationship that means both beautiful and painful experiences for Marisol--even as she feels how natural her and Rey's mutual attraction is, the trauma she must endure because of Rey makes her fearful.
Villasante's debut is for the reader who wants to get down and dirty with the emotional landscape, who wants a romance that is hard-earned and sweetly won. The Grief Keeper shows us trauma and grief without ever glorifying the pain or wallowing in the tragedy, creating a realistic yet still hopeful world seen through the gaze of an intelligent, curious protagonist. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness