The Folk Keeper, by Fanny Billingsley (Simon and Schuster, 1999, upper mg/YA, 162 pages)
Only boys can be Folk Keepers, those who tend to the hunger of the Folk and keep them safely subterranian, so that they don't wreck unchecked havoc on human affairs. So Corinna, seeing the role of Folk Keeper as a better one than Floor Scrubber, disgused herself as a boy, and made a place for herself down in the celler of the Rysbridge Home for orphans, recording in her diary the record of her keeping.
It is a day of yellow fog, and the Fold are hungry. They ate the lamb I grought them, picking hte bones clean and leaving them outside the Folk Door.
The lamb was meant for Matron's Sunday supper. She'll know I took it, but she will not dare say anything. She can keep her tapestreis and silks adn Sunday dinners. Here in the Cellar, I control the Folk. Here, I'm queen of the world."
But then the tenor of Corinna's world is shattered when she summoned by Lord Merton to be the Folk Keeper on his grand estate, on an island miles away. It's not by chance that Lord Merton sought Corinna out. He knows something about her....a secret that he soon takes to his grave. And Corinna, charged with keeping quiet more of the Folk then she's ever dealt with before, and caught up in a power struggle between the lord's heir, a young man named Finian, and a distant cousin who wants the estate for himself, has little time for speculation. But when it begins to seem as though someone wants her out of the way, forever, she begins to unravel the mystery of her past, discovering secrets that she had never dreamt about in a world where the fey are all too real, the bones of the last keeper lie moldering in the cellar, and the sea pulls on her heart.
(All is not danger and darkness--the young heir to the house becomes her friend, seeming to see through her disguise to the real Corinna within....and there's a happy ending).
Corinna is a fiercely independent heroine--smart, and fierce, and determined as all get out. Pitted against not just the hungry Folk, but human machinations, she almost meets her match...but her stubbornness stands her in good stead. But there is much more to her character than fierceness. Her conversations with Finian, faithfully recorded in her journal, show her more reflective, emotional side, buried deep under layers of survival instinct, gradually coming to the surface...
The Folk Keeper is a paranormal romance, written well before vampires etc burst into the YA literary scene, and it's subtle in its paranormalcy (one doesn't find out all until near the end, although one can guess quite early on), with the romance also not front and center (although it's a very nice romance based on friendship). It reminded me lots of Elizabeth Pope's The Perilous Gard-- a girl from "historical times" thrust into a mysterious situation involving powerful and hostile paranormal forces; and both books have a quality of real magic, dark and deep, that's hard to do justice too.
The Folk Keeper is much darker and stranger, and much more YA, than the cover would have you believe! Bloomsbury is reissuing this one (April 2011), and here is the new cover
Other reviews at Things Mean a Lot, The Scholar's Blog, and The Black Letters
Billingsley's newest book Chime (her third book) will be released in March. I'm looking forward to it! And I've added her first book, Well Wished, to my library holds list....