Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

BookBrowse Reviews Foster by Claire Keegan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Claire Keegan

Foster by Claire Keegan X
Foster by Claire Keegan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Nov 2022, 128 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book



Claire Keegan's delicate, heart-rending novella Foster tells the story of a young Irish girl sent to live with relatives for one pivotal summer.

Irish author Claire Keegan is experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks to the selection of her 2021 novella Small Things Like These for the 2022 Booker Prize shortlist. Foster was Keegan's third book, following two short story collections (see "Beyond the Book" for more on Keegan’s career). Although an abridged version of Foster was published in the New Yorker in 2010, this is the first time American readers have had the opportunity to read this miniature masterpiece in full. Coming in at under 130 pages, the novella bears all the hallmarks of a book several times its length: a convincing and original voice, rich character development, an evocative setting, just enough backstory, psychological depth, conflict and sensitive treatment of difficult themes like poverty and neglect.

Keegan’s narrator, a young Irish girl, is never named. One Sunday, in the middle of a long, hot summer, instead of taking her home after Mass, the little girl’s father drives her toward the southeast coast. She has gathered from her father’s conversations that their family farm is struggling, and her mother is exhausted and pregnant once again. As if she is a nuisance, just one of too many mouths to feed, the girl is dropped off with her mother’s relatives, John and Edna Kinsella, a childless couple, for an indeterminate stay.

When Mrs. Kinsella bathes the girl and takes her into town to shop for new clothes, it’s the first time she has known such tender treatment. In the early days at her foster home, she walks on eggshells, terrified of wetting the bed or breaking something. Readers will infer from this behavior that, back home, her parents have beaten or at least verbally abused her for such incidents — just for being an ordinary child. Gradually, she starts to feel safe in her new home, assisting with daily chores, enjoying the rituals of cooking with Mrs. Kinsella and playing with Mr. Kinsella, who times her run down the driveway to see how quickly she can return with the day’s mail.

One of the first things Mrs. Kinsella tells the girl is “There are no secrets in this house, do you hear? Where there’s a secret, there’s shame — and shame is something we can do without.” It’s a wonderful, liberating thing to say to a child, yet it’s an ironic declaration, we soon learn, for the Kinsellas have their own painful secret: they had a son who died young. When the girl hears this from a neighbor, she feels sorry for the couple who have nurtured her. Serving as their replacement child has given her in turn a chance to experience true affection. “Kinsella takes my hand in his. As soon as he takes it, I realise my father has never once held my hand,” she reflects. But what will happen when summer ends?

Although Foster feels like a timeless fable with a rural Irish setting, a brief mention of IRA hunger strikers grounds the novella in the year 1981. Telling the story from the child’s perspective works perfectly because the narrator simply records what she sees and hears, in the present tense and without interpretation. Dramatic irony results from her descriptions of matters she doesn’t fully understand: although she might not realize that her family is poor or that she has been neglected to the point of abuse, readers do.

I happen to know (since it's my last name) that the word “foster” comes from Old English and means “to nourish or rear.” The Kinsellas do so much more than feed, house and clothe this girl, though. They make her feel that she is loved and valued; they nourish her spirit. I finished this one-sitting read in a flood of tears, hoping the Kinsellas' care might be enough to protect the girl from the harshness she may well face in the rest of her growing-up years. In this exquisite novella, Keegan unfolds a cautionary tale of endangered childhood, also hinting at the enduring difference a little compassion can make.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review first ran in the November 16, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Foster, try these:

  • So Late in the Day jacket

    So Late in the Day

    by Claire Keegan

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    From Booker Prize Finalist and bestselling author of "pitch perfect" (Boston Globe) Small Things Like These, comes a triptych of stories about love, lust, betrayal, and the ever-intriguing interchanges between women and men.

  • Fight Night jacket

    Fight Night

    by Miriam Toews

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the bestselling author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows, a compassionate, darkly humorous, and deeply wise new novel about three generations of women.

We have 4 read-alikes for Foster, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Claire Keegan
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    by K-Ming Chang
    In the first few pages of K-Ming Chang's bizarre yet engrossing novella Cecilia, Seven, the ...
  • Book Jacket: Women and Children First
    Women and Children First
    by Alina Grabowski
    After Lucy Anderson falls to her death at a high school party, no one in Nashquitten, her gloomy, ...
  • Book Jacket: Henry Henry
    Henry Henry
    by Allen Bratton
    Allen Bratton's Henry Henry chronicles a year in the life of Hal Lancaster. Readers already ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Murder at the End of the World
    The Last Murder at the End of the World
    by Stuart Turton
    The island is the only safe place left on Earth. Since a deadly fog overtook the planet, the ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Look on the Bright Side
by Kristan Higgins
From the author of Pack Up the Moon comes a funny, romantic, and moving novel about life's unexpected rewards.
Book Jacket
The Pecan Children
by Quinn Connor
Two sisters deeply tied to their small Southern town fight to break free of the darkness swallowing the land whole.
Win This Book
Win Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

A beautifully written, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.



Solve this clue:

A W in S C

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.