Shirley Marr's Reviews > Dark Water

Dark Water by Laura McNeal
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Dec 07, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: usa-ya
Recommended to Shirley by: Reynje
Read from December 03 to 07, 2011

There is so much outstanding Aussie YA that I find I rarely find myself wandering from the field. When I do stray into USA YA - this book is exactly what I look for! I'm sorry USA, but I don't want to read the Disneyfied American High School stuff or the whitewashed stuff involving Angels that could be set anywhere. I want to know what makes you You. And the more left of centre and the more problems (societal and internal) it touches on, the better.

Dark Water examines the summer 15-year-old Pearl Dewitt comes of age. It addresses not only the emotional problems of Pearl (toward her parent's separation, her attraction to migrant boy Amiel who works on her Uncle's avocado farm) but weightier issues involving illegal labourers and the community's view of them.

From the onset we are told that a fire will come and rip through their lives, which you can view as either cleansing or destructive. The Dark Water of the river may drown or it may be saviour from the flames. It is upon these twin symbolic foundations that the novel builds itself with the heart-wrenching idea of: what could make someone head towards the flames when everyone is trying to flee?

I love the writing. It is poetic and haunting and very deftly manages to weave together symbols that it carries right to the end without a single loose end. The crescendo is well handled and the author is surprisingly able to switch her languid style to one of more urgency near the end, nicely pacing the novel to its gut-wrenching climax. The denouement is exactly the right length and the ending bittersweet. If this were an Olympic diving contest, you would say that the author performed a perfect pike.

What I wasn't so convinced about was the romance vs "the other stuff" (ie: her mum's mental decline, her uncle's cheating, her cousin Robby's revenge plan, her best friend getting a boyfriend). Pearl has one brown and one blue eye and she has been warned about her magical thinking that makes her think she belongs in two worlds.

I think Laura McNeal took on way too much when she tried to balance the two plot strands together. Either the romance has to be over-ruling or it becomes smaller to accommodate the other stuff. If you try to make them equal and devote the same amount of time to them, then both stand the chance of becoming diluted. I was left feeling generally ambivalent about both.

I felt that the scenes where Pearl sneaks down to the river to meet Amiel a bit hackneyed, as I am sure this storyline has featured in every other Bruce Springsteen song. Plus they're kinda... boring. Sneak down to the river. Hold hands. Sneak away. Repeat several more times. And the Robby storyline, going so strong at the start, left me uncaring of its outcome by the end, as it had been pushed to one side to make way for Amiel and then returned to too late. Nothing stood out from the mix in the end. I didn't feel that big 5 Star impact.

I am giving this book 4 stars because it is masterfully written and I applaud the fact the author explored the topic of illegal workers. The scene involving the workers pleading for work as Uncle's Hoyt truck pulls up at the day labour spot really hurt my heart. As a volunteer, I stand for sometimes 5 hours at a stretch at a shopping centre looking for donations, while people refuse to make eye-contact with me and tell their children not to go near me (view spoiler) so I know all too well the feeling of being a second-class citizen.

How successfully and how far she should have pushed it is open to discussion, but I feel a fair, understated message was made.




Thank you Reynje for gifting me this book (which would otherwise be hard for Aussies to get) How can I hold myself back when you send me a Polaroid note card?? *shoots beams of lovehearts from eyes*
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Reading Progress

12/05/2011 page 125
44.0% "I thought this would be easy, of course I would love this book and I did to begin with... but now the cracks in our relationship are beginning to show. I hope me and Booksey are still together (or at least on speaking terms) by the end of this;-)"

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Reynje This photo is ridiculously cute :)

You're welcome! Enjoy..


Reynje And now I stalks. Quietly.


message 3: by Jess (new)

Jess So cute!


Reynje Oh, I'm so glad you liked it! I think we're on the same page with the romance, and the writing is gorgeous.

It's not a favourite for me, but I do love that it touches on "real" issues, especially one I didn't know a lot about.

(view spoiler)


message 5: by Shirley (last edited Dec 07, 2011 07:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Shirley Marr I liked Amiel as a person. I'm still trying to figure out what exactley it was I didn't like about the romance...

(view spoiler)

(view spoiler)


Reynje (view spoiler)


message 7: by Shirley (last edited Dec 07, 2011 09:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Shirley Marr Well I'm certain it's not this:
(view spoiler)


Reynje Wah! So cute!


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