Blog Tour: The Grief Keeper

Blog Tour: The Grief KeeperThe Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Published by Penguin on June 11, 2019
Genres: Young Adult

Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen, an elderly expat who had employed Marisol's mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber's, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as "an illegal", but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi's, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn't be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn't have been caught crossing the border.

But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She's asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It's a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.

The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.

I am so honored to have Alexandra Villasante on my blog today with a post about how her work as an artist informs her writing writing. Her beautiful book, The Grief Keeper, will be available for purchase on June 11th. After you read her post, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a finished copy.


My dad was a painter. I remember the summer I was ten, I had to stand in a certain position, unmoving, even as my friends played outside, while Dad painted my portrait. I was frustrated (because, SUMMER! OUTSIDE! And FRIENDS!) but also fascinated by how minute strokes of paint would change the tone of the painting from one day to the next, as the oil paint slowly dried over days. It was like watching slow-motion magic.

I had some talent in painting, and I really liked art. I figured that meant I was supposed to be a painter. I went to the School of Visual arts in NYC for painting then moved to London to attend Chelsea College of Art & Design.

When I made art – whether it was a painting or an installation—I was always telling a story. For my degree piece at Chelsea, I projected a series of short, silent films I’d made – films where it’s not clear what’s going on– to a large screen, and built a booth with a microphone. I invited the viewers to come into the booth and speak into the microphone, creating the story they wanted to see in real time. It was about language and perception and about how everyone has stories in them.

I think that’s the moment that I realized that, even though I loved painting and art, I wanted to use words to make stories.

It wasn’t an easy transition. I had degrees in art, but I’d never so much as written a term paper or studied writing. I’d always read a lot, which helped. And I definitely wrote a bunch of terrible books and short stories before getting good enough to get an agent. I also read books on craft – everything from On Writing by Stephen King to Save The Cat! By Blake Snyder. I think the biggest hurdle for me was to stop feeling like I’d wasted time studying art, when I should have been studying writing and literature.

Now I see that my art education gave me invaluable tools that I can apply to writing. First and foremost. I can seriously take a critique. Nothing prepares you for publishing more than the Monday morning critique in drawing class. Thirty-plus people staring at your work (and you) and telling you, to your FACE, everything you did wrong (and right!) You either crumble and think you are worthless, or you learn to listen for what resonates and tackle your work again. Believe me, I’ve done both. But ultimately, I can ignore the sting of critique and look for the gold in the comments.

Visual art also taught me how to observe, which is the first step in world building. The writing adage of show don’t tell is paramount in painting, too. Even the most figurative, classical paintings have layers of meaning and emotion in the work. A bowl of fruit or a socialite in a pearl necklace is never just some fruit and a rich lady. There’s meaning in every layer. I try to do the same with my writing, putting meaning in every word – and using words, imagery and language to balancing dark and light, create echoes and deepen meaning.

Telling stories is about being human with each other. Whether with painting, music or words, art is only half-created by the artist. The other vital part of making art is the part that happens in the viewer, listener or reader. We make this art together, no matter what medium we use.



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About Alexandra Villasante

Alexandra Villasante has always loved telling stories—though not always with words. She has a BFA in Painting and an MA in Combined Media (that’s art school speak for making work out of anything). Born in New Jersey to immigrant parents, Alex has the privilegio of dreaming in both English and Spanish.

When she’s not writing, painting or chasing chickens around the yard, Alexandra plans conferences and fundraisers for non-profits. She lives with her family in the semi-wilds of Pennsylvania.


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