The Keepers

Al Campbell

The Keepers
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The Keepers

Al Campbell

Jay is devoted to the care of her teenage twins who view the world as differently as it views them. Frank is sweet, sensitive and bullied, while whip-smart Teddy needs an iPad to speak. With an absent husband and battling a nightmare bureaucracy, Jay leans heavily on Keep, her lifelong half-real friend. But in the corner of her eye lurks her mother, and a childhood Jay knows she can’t ever outrun.

Jay believes she is managing quite well, with a half-grip on this half-life of hers. That is, until Teddy starts to get sick, refusing to eat, while doctors refuse to listen, confounding everything Jay thought she knew about what lies ahead.

The Keepers is an incredible and fiercely honest novel about the damage done by parents who can’t love, the failures of a community that only claims to care, and the resilience of those whose stories mostly go untold.


Al Campbell is a mother and full-time carer of two sons with autism. She is also a phenomenal writer. The Keepers is her first novel, and I can honestly say, I have never read anything like it. Raw, unflinching, confronting, The Keepers is not a ‘light’ read. Campbell draws on her own experience as a mother struggling to navigate a system that constantly fails those who desperately need it, but The Keepers also shines a light on moments of magic and beauty, even in the midst of what is unimaginable pain for most.

Trapped in a loveless marriage and trying to overcome the vulnerabilities and challenges of her childhood, and the considerable damage inflicted upon her by her own mother, Jay strives to be the best mother she can be. Devoted, present, fierce and loving, Jay struggles to protect and advocate for her twin teenage boys in a world that would sooner overlook and dismiss them, and a system designed to be as frustrating and obfuscating as possible. Only Keep, her lifelong, half-real friend can be depended on.

In the form of Jay’s scrapbook entries, Campbell intersperses real-life media stories and headlines about the mistreatment and experiences of people with a disability. Placed alongside the fictionalised chapters, it is impossible to ignore the fact that though this is a novel, the situations it presents are real, causing one to think deeply about how generations of abuse and neglect can go on, unseen, ignored, dismissed. How can this still be happening? The book club notes at the end of the book state: ‘In surveys conducted both in Australia and around the world, the care and welfare of people with a disability routinely ranks last as the social issue of most concern to respondents.’ The Keepers is an important, urgent call to open our eyes and ask, what can I do to help?

Tye Cattanach is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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