Sheila's Reviews > Dark Water

Dark Water by Laura McNeal
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's review
Apr 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: coming-of-age, cultural, current_issues, relationships, romance, young-adult
Read in April, 2011

The Dark Water or Agua Prieta of Laura McNeal’s title is a creek in the small community of Fallbrook, California. It’s also the location, and name, of a wildfire that swept through the area, destroying homes and killing citizen and migrant worker alike. Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt narrates the tale—a child on the cusp of womanhood, just beginning to learn the perils of trust and love. Author Laura McNeal creates a wonderful sense of people and place, together with that curious displacement of the nearly grown, in this novel for young adults.

Communication is central to this story, from the physically voiceless Mexican to the voicelessness of poverty and ignorance. Silkworms might die if treated wrong. Mexican’s might be cast out by la migra. Crops might not be gathered. Spouse might be forgotten or betrayed.

Pearl’s curiosity about Amiel, and Amiel’s tender fear, grow sweetly under the shade of the avocado trees. Pearl’s cousin betrays and feels betrayed. Pearl’s absent father leaves deep wounds. And Pearl, like an oyster opening, begins to find herself. But the beauty of scenery is haunted always by the knowledge that disaster looms; the reader is never quite sure whether the shell will protect Pearl’s treasure or whether fate will leave it cracked. Wildfire seems almost the ultimate miscommunication, casting its flames where it will, destroying some and sparing others almost randomly. And sometimes you have to face the danger, speak your fears to survive.

Dark Water is a sweet sad love story for teens, built on beauty and mystery, threaded with responsibility and concern, and building to a climax of very real danger. The author juggles innocence and friendship delightfully, building forbidden romance into wholly appropriate human concern, and revealing the paths where blame hides itself as surely as a migrant worker’s camp under the trees. The novel haunts with its beauty, grates with its honest teenage carelessness, and leaves a lasting impression of humanity, worth more in all its shades than any kind of blame.

Disclosure: I received an advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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