One of our recommended books for 2020 is The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister


A Novel

Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives.

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows,

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Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives.

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.

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  • St. Martin's Griffin
  • Paperback
  • February 2020
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781250622624

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$16.99 indies Bookstore

About Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the author of The Scent Keeper, credit Susan DoupéErica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the nonfiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.

Author Website


“Told in a lyrical, haunting prose, the story provides fascinating information about the ways in which different fragrances can impact human behavior and the struggles of finding one’s own identity. An artfully crafted coming-of-age story that will take the reader on an exquisite olfactory adventure. “Kirkus

“This coming-of-age story delights the senses, immersing the reader in the sights, sounds, and scents of the wilderness and city life. Fans of Mary Simses and Jennifer Close will fall in love with Bauermeister’s plucky heroine, the layers of family secrets, the lush settings, and the painfully tender relationships.”Booklist

“Woven through [Emmeline’s] life’s journey is a multi-layered story of fragrance and its evocative power, as strong and tenacious as this sensuous novel’s plucky heroine.”Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

“[A] magical novel…Blending fantasy with a realist family drama, Bauermeister’s novel will enchant fans of Katherine Paterson.”Publishers Weekly

“For lovers of Chocolat, The Scent Keeper evokes emotion and magic through the senses.”–Jennie Shortridge, author of Eating Heaven

“A fascinating, totally original and captivating tale about how the love that separates us is also the love that keeps us together.” —M.J. Rose, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Fragrances

“The author hits it out of the park with the most superb sense of place I’ve read in a long time. It’s a coming of age tale, featuring a young heroine as narrator who makes serious mistakes, learns much from them, and ultimately redeems herself. Beautifully and masterfully written. I highly recommend it.” – Elizabeth George, New York Times and international bestselling author

“Bauermeister deftly weaves plot and language into a luminous discovery of love—for another person, for a place, and ultimately for oneself.” – Carol Cassella, national bestselling author of Oxygen

“Bauermeister’s heroine Emmeline might also be kin to Jane Eyre. Heartbreaking, thrilling, and wonderfully instructive, this sensual novel is pure pleasure reading.”Adrianne Harun, bestselling author of A Man Came Out of A Door in the Mountain

“Some very special books have the power to change the reader–The Scent Keeper is one of those. This is a book to be devoured, no, to be inhaled, and held deeply.”Dave Boling, author of Guernica

“One of the most enchanting, unique books I’ve ever read.”Anna Quinn, author of The Night Child and owner The Writers’ Workshop and Imprint Bookstore

Discussion Questions

General questions:

1. What is the smell of childhood for you?

2. If you could preserve one scent, what would it be?

3. If technology was not an issue, what invention would you create?

4. In the course of the book, Emmeline lives on the island, in Secret Cove, and in the city. Each location affected her profoundly and differently. How have the places you’ve lived affected you?

Nightingale/scent questions:

5. What do you think the story of the Nightingale means to John? To Emmeline? Why do you think John cut it from the book?

6. The Nightingale machine is a fi ctional invention. Discuss its role in the book.

7. Both John and Victoria have a wall of scents. What do you think they mean to each of the characters?

8. Emmeline’s father strives to preserve memories through scent. Emmeline’s mother uses scent to influence others. Rene is trying to re-create scents that are disappearing in the modern world. What are the up- and downsides to their actions?

9. What do you think about Emmeline’s relationship with scent? How does it change as she grows older?

Emotional Arc questions/Parents:

10. Secrets are an important element in The Scent Keeper. Which secrets do you think the characters were right to keep? Which should they have told and when?

11. What do you think about John’s decision to take Emmeline to the island? How do you feel about their relationship?

12. What do you think was the most important lesson that Emmeline learned on the island?

13. At one point, Emmeline comes to understand her father has been revealing his past through stories. What do you think he’d been trying to tell her?

14. Emmeline experiences the deaths of Cleo, her father, and Dodge. How does her reaction to each differ? What does each one tell us about her?

15. How do you see Emmeline’s relationship with her parents change throughout the book?

16. What do you think happens at the end of the book?


17. What role does Fisher plays in Emmeline’s life? How does that change?

18. What do you think about Emmeline’s decision to take Fisher to the island? How does it compare to her father’s decision to take her there as a baby?

19. Emmeline blames herself for her father’s death, and for the confrontation between Fisher and his father. Do you think she was right to do so?

20. Fisher chose to leave his abusive father (and Emmeline). His mother chose to stay. What do you think about each of their decisions?

21. At one point in the book, Fisher’s mother says: “Martin used to tell me how salmon always return to the same stream to spawn. They say it’s the smell that draws them upstream. Maybe we’re more like fish than we think.” How does this apply to the characters in the book? Do you agree with the statement?

Literary questions:

22. Several chapter titles are repeated in the book. Why do you think that is?

23. The Scent Keeper is told through Emmeline’s perspective. Imagine if it had been told through the varying perspectives of the major characters—Emmeline, Fisher, John, and Victoria. How would that change the book?

24. How does the prologue affect your reading of the rest of the novel? How would the book have been different if it had come at the end?

25. Fairy tales and stories are present throughout the book. What is their role in the book? In our lives?



Back before there was time, I lived with my father on an island, tucked away in an endless archipelago that reached up out of the cold salt water, hungry for air. Growing up in the midst of the rain and moss and ancient thick-barked trees, it was easy to forget that the vast majority of our island was underwater—descending down two, three, five hundred bone-chilling feet. Forever really, for you could never hold your breath long enough to get to the bottom.Those islands were a place to run away, although I didn’t understand that at the time. I had nothing to run from and every reason to stay. My father was everything. I’ve heard people say that someone is their “whole world,” their eyes filled with stars. But my father was my world, in a way so literal it can still grab my thoughts, pick them up, and toss them around like driftwood in a storm.

Our cabin was set in a clearing at the center of the island. We were not the first to live there—those islands have a long history of runaways. Almost a century ago there were French fur trappers, with accents that lilted and danced. Loggers with mountainous shoulders, and fishermen who chased silver-backed salmon. Later came the draft dodgers, hiding from war. Hippies, dodging rules. The islands took them all in—the storms and the long, dark winters spat most out again. The beauty there was raw; it could kill as easily as it could astonish.

Our cabin had been built by the truest of runaways. He set up in a place where no one could find him and built his home from trees he felled himself. He spent forty years on the island, clearing space for a garden and planting an orchard. One autumn, however, he simply disappeared. Drowned, it was said. After that the cabin was empty for years until we arrived and found the apple trees, opened the door. Raised the population of the island to two.

I don’t remember arriving on the island myself; I was too young. I only remember living there. I remember the paths that wandered through those watchful trees, the odor of the dirt beneath our feet, as dark and complicated as fairy tales. I remember our one-room cabin, the big chair by the woodstove, and our collection of stories and science books. I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night, and the ghostly aroma of the runaway’s pipe tobacco, an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.

Most of all, I remember the drawers.

My father had begun building them when we moved into the cabin, and when he was done they lined our walls from floor to ceiling. The drawers were small things, their polished wooden fronts no bigger than my child-sized hands. They surrounded us like the forest and islands outside our door.

Each drawer contained a single small bottle, and inside each bottle was a piece of paper, rolled around itself like a secret. The glass stoppers of the bottles were sealed with different colored waxes—red in the top rows, green for those below. My father almost never opened the bottles.

“We need to keep them safe,” he said.

But I could hear the papers whispering inside the drawers.

Come find me.

“Please?” I’d ask, again and again.

Finally, he agreed. He took out a leather book filled with numbers and carefully added one to the list. Then he turned to the wall of drawers, pondering his choice.

“Up there,” I said, pointing up high to where the red-wax bottles lived. Stories always begin at the top of a page.

My father had built a ladder that slid along the wall, and I watched him climb it almost to the ceiling, reaching into a drawer and drawing out its bottle. When he was back on the ground, he carefully broke the seal. I could hear glass scritching against glass as he pulled out the stopper, then the rustle of the paper as he unrolled it into a plain, white square. He leaned in close, inhaling, then wrote another number in the book.

I meant to stay still, but I leaned forward, too. My father looked up and smiled, holding out the paper.

“Here,” he said. “Breathe in, but not too much. Let the smell introduce itself.”

I did as he said. I kept my chest tight and my breath shallow. I could feel the tendrils of a fragrance tickling the inside of my nose, slipping into the curls of my black hair. I could smell campfires made from a wood I didn’t recognize; dirt more parched than any I had ever known; moisture, ready to burst from clouds in a sky I’d never seen. It smelled like waiting.

“Now, breathe in deeply,” my father said.

I inhaled, and fell into the fragrance like Alice down the rabbit hole.

* * *

Later, after the bottle had been stoppered and sealed and put back in its drawer, I turned to my father. I could still smell the last of the fragrance lingering in the air.

“Tell me its story,” I asked him. “Please.”

“All right, little lark,” he said. He sat in the big chair and I nestled in next to him. The fire crackled in the woodstove; the world outside was still.

“Once upon a time, Emmeline…” he began, and his voice rolled around the rhyme of it as if the words were made of chocolate.

Once upon a time, Emmeline, there was a beautiful queen who was trapped in a great white castle. None of the big, bold knights could save her. “Bring me a smell that will break the walls,” she asked a brave young boy named Jack …

I listened, while the scents found their hiding places in the cracks in the floorboards, and the words of the story, and the rest of my life.

Copyright © 2019, 2020 by Erica Bauermeister