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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 946

Author: Helen Frost (b. 1949)

First published: 2003

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Early 2000s

Locale: An unnamed city

Principal characters

Stephie, a teen who discovers she is pregnant

Jason, her boyfriend, a basketball star

Dontay, a teen in foster care

...

(The entire section contains 946 words.)

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Author: Helen Frost (b. 1949)

First published: 2003

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Early 2000s

Locale: An unnamed city

Principal characters

Stephie, a teen who discovers she is pregnant

Jason, her boyfriend, a basketball star

Dontay, a teen in foster care

Carmen, Dontay's friend, a teen in juvenile detention for driving under the influence

Harris, a teen who is thrown out of his house for being gay

Katie, a teen escaping her abusive stepfather

Keesha, a teen living on her own after her alcoholic father kicks her out

The Story

Poet Helen Frost's 2003 novel, Keesha's House, weaves together the stories of seven teenagers in verse. The book begins with Stephie, a young woman who discovers that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, Jason. Stephie is desperate to hide her pregnancy from her no-nonsense parents, but she does not know whom she can turn to for help. Afraid of losing a chance at a basketball scholarship, Jason rebuffs her. She is alone—but a classmate, a girl named Keesha, recognizes Stephie's dilemma. Keesha is no stranger to family troubles; not so long ago, her alcoholic father threw her out of the house. Keesha began living with a man named Joe. At first, Keesha was afraid of Joe, worrying what he would ask of her in return for living there. Over time, however, she grows accustomed to the kind and quiet man who inherited the large house.From KEESHA’S HOUSE © 2003 by Helen Frost. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. All Rights Reserved.

Meanwhile, a fourteen-year-old boy named Dontay bounces from foster family to foster family. His parents, he explains later, are in prison for a crime they did not commit. Dontay navigates the strange rules of yet another family. His friend Carmen, who lives with her grandmother, gets arrested for driving while intoxicated. The stop seems suspicious, but she did have one beer hours earlier. Carmen is sent to juvenile detention to await trial. Harris, another teenage boy, has a different problem: After he comes out to his parents, his father throws him out of the house. Harris begins living in his car, while Katie, whose new stepfather keeps trying to molest her, runs away from home. She finds a new home at Joe and Keesha's house.

Stephie's pregnancy is starting to show, and rather than admit her predicament to her parents, she runs away. Keesha finds her at an all-night doughnut shop and invites her to stay at Joe's house for a while. Dontay, fed up with his new family and loathing the thought of attending a new one, devises a plan to couch surf at the houses of various friends. Harris is bullied at school, while Katie's tenuous schedule—sleep, school, work—is thrown into chaos by a change in the city bus schedule. Twice in the novel, Frost interrupts the voices of her main characters with a section of poems in the voices of periphery characters; Jason's coach laments his star player's lack of focus, and the assistant principal remembers telling Harris to stand up to the bullies himself. Recalling his own past, Joe muses that everyone has a story and deserves a safe place to stay for a while.

Stephie breaks down, calling her parents to take her home, while others find their way to what everyone now calls Keesha's house. Jason gets ready for a big game but skips it when he gets a call that Stephie has had a miscarriage. Keesha struggles to provide guidance to her younger brother, Tobias, who is falling in with a dangerous crowd. Tobias, meanwhile, suggests that Dontay stay for a while at Keesha's house. Later, Joe helps mediate between Dontay and his new foster family. Harris and Katie meet at work; he offers her rides in his car, and she offers him another room in Keesha's house. Just as things are looking up, Tobias is killed, plunging Keesha into grief. She breaks half the dishes in the house, but Joe is not angry. He comforts her. Carmen, who is working to stay sober, starts coming around the house, where the many residents have pulled together to form a family.

Critical Evaluation

Keesha's House, a book about acceptance, nonjudgment, and kindness, was named a Michael L. Printz Award honor book in 2004. It is written entirely in verse. In the book's afterword, Frost explains that she used two different forms of poetry, taking a few liberties with rules of each. The dominant form used in the novel is called a sestina. A sestina consists of six six-line stanzas. Each stanza uses, in a different order, the same six end words; for instance, in one of Carmen's poems, each line ends with one of the following words: alive, everything, shoes, sleepin', sheets, and corner.

The second form Frost uses is called a sonnet. A sonnet consists of fourteen lines, written in iambic pentameter, with a particular rhyme scheme. There are two kinds of sonnets, Petrarchan and Shakespearean. Frost combines these forms in Keesha's House. The last section of the book is composed of sonnets but altogether becomes a larger poem called a crown of sonnets. A crown consists of seven sonnets in which the last line of the first sonnet becomes the first line of the next sonnet and so on. Frost was praised for maintaining the distinct voices of each character while writing in accordance with these poetic forms.

Further Reading

  • Review of Keesha's House, by Helen Frost. Kirkus, 15 Mar. 2003, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/helen-frost/keeshas-house. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of Keesha's House, by Helen Frost. Publishers Weekly, 1 Apr. 2003, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-374-40012-5. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
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