Foster by Claire Keegan–ATLP Book Review

hardcover version of Foster by claire keegan book, sitting on white sheet,  illuminated by string lights

The Stats

  • 92 Pages
  • Irish Literature
  • Historical Fiction
  • Novella/Short Fiction
  • ‘Childhood, loss, and love’

”’Ah, the women are nearly always right, all the same,” he says. “Do you know what the women have a gift for?”


‘”Eventualities. A good woman can look far down the line and smell what’s coming before a man even gets a sniff of it.”

Claire Keegan, Foster (66)


Foster, by Claire Keegan, is a short novella examining a young girl’s emotions as she travels from her childhood home to a distant relative’s house for the summer. Set in rural Ireland, the story explores the warmth that the child feels as she blossoms in their care, and the deep sadness that hits when she discovers that ‘foster’ means she must return to her family at the end of the summer. Keegan’s writing style is descriptive and lyrical, emotionally charged, and filled with idyllic narratives of the Irish countryside.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Claire Keegan’s Foster isn’t the most popular book trending on Booktok–in fact, Foster probably isn’t mentioned on the app at all. While its popularity is limited, this little novella is quickly picking up speed for its thought-provoking plotline and stylistic beauty.

What sold me on this book, ironically, was a quote on the back cover from The Daily Telegraph: “Echoes Seamus Heaney’s early poetry.” So very few people know this, but I am a huge fan of Seamus Heaney. I fell in love with his poetry in college and I’ve been drawn to it, for some inexplicable reason, ever since.

When I found Foster (and read this quote), I doubted it would even touch the surface of my love for Heaney. But, I was caught off guard by this story and I’ll tell you why.

First off, the book is written with an Irish lilt that most readers will struggle to get into–like I did. However, once I got past the first few pages, I fell right into it. It felt a bit like my grandparents were talking to me–my grandfather’s mother grew up in Ireland and emigrated to the U.S. as an adult.

Several pieces of my family culture were repeated to me throughout this book, without me even realizing it. For example, there’s a scene where the characters are playing a card game called forty-five. My family plays a card game called twenty-five that my grandfather used to play growing up–it’s based on very similar rules. I had an epiphany when I read Foster and I realized exactly how much culture has been transferred over to me through my family, without me ever setting foot in Ireland (though I one day hope to). It was a lofty realization and it hit hard, and beautifully at the same time. I believe these little details were likely purposefully crafted to invoke meaning with the reader, beyond words, that helps create a familial sense of comfort with this novella.

Beyond this, the book is full of imagery that ANY reader will enjoy. In the beginning of the story, a father takes the main character, to live with a couple on a farm. She’s a child, but the reader isn’t told how old (in my mind, I envisioned her to be somewhere between 8-10). Her father doesn’t explain to her whether she’ll be brought home again or not, but he does tell the couple that the family has too many mouths to feed and there’s another baby on the way.

At first, as any child would be, she feels awkward. Yet, she quickly finds that both Mr. and Mrs. Kinsella are a sweet nurturing couple with a good, clean home. They care for her as if she were their own child, and at times–better than her parents have. Though, the child soon finds out that the Kinsella’s have a secret. The clothes she wears, the room she sleeps in, the pet names spoke to her: they may have all been used before.

Despite how connected she continues to become, summer must end. One day, they receive a letter in the mail from the child’s mother that school is starting, and the child needs to return home. Heartbroken, she realizes that she cannot stay with them forever. While I won’t spoil the ending, it was entirely unexpected and just emotionally shattered me, even in the simplest of scenes.


Some of my favorite books are novellas. For example, I love Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s such an overlooked classic, and I don’t know WHY. It irks me that people never read it. The same with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; so few people read it, but they are well versed on The Picture of Dorian Gray (If you’re looking for a more modern short book, check out my review of Before The Coffee Gets Cold!).

I think, sometimes novellas can be impeccably well written because the author must focus on each individual word, noting it’s importance to the story. While full novels certainly have their place, novellas can be beautifully lyrical, and they are so often overlooked. Shorter pieces have a talent for hitting us harder in a small amount of time–and I think there has to be an appreciation for that (at least for me).

That being said, Foster is a modern-day classic, and I implore you to impulse buy it immediately. You’ll love it. I guarantee it.

And, if you love it as much as I do, there’s actually a movie version out now too–The Quiet Girl–written by Claire Keegan and directed by Colm Bairead. I haven’t gotten past the book enough to be able to watch it yet, but it’s rated a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (which is really good), so you’ll have to watch it first and tell me if it’s good in the comments below.

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One comment

  1. I have been worrying about this one because of the ending but I think I’m going to have to read it because I loved Small Things Like These so much! Having said that, I know what a visceral and amazing writer she is, so I know how much she will tear the reader apart. I might just get a copy and read it during Novellas in November and get it done, and then wait for what comes next!

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