Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen. (Grades 7+)

I saw myself entering a new world, diving into the deep sea with only a mask and no compass or chart, my assignment to draw a map of water. Only I would not be given equipment. (pg. 15)

When Magda's mother died, she kind of shut down for awhile. Her mother was the only one who really understood her. Magda and her mother shared a worldview. They explored the beach and the water and created beautiful things from what they found. And then her mother died. And Magda began to float.

Eventually she left her room. She began to take walks in the woods. She began to start fires because she was drawn to them, because she wanted to create something.

Magda looks around her and sees a profound difference between her own ramshackle house and the rows of manicured houses farther from the water. She longs to enter that orderly, normal world that she calls "the standard", but she's afraid that she's destined to stay in the watery, chaotic world that her mother lived in.

The Shape of Water chronicle's Magda's internal struggle to deal with her mother's death. Not only is Magda crushed by the loss of her mother, she's left with a father and a spinster aunt who don't understand her and she's abandoned by her best friend. To cope with loneliness, her mind creates the Fish family, imaginary fish that swim into her thoughts.

This novel is beautifully written. I flagged passage after passage of really poetic writing. For example:

Julia's life had walls and dams, places of prediction and intent. Julia's life, unlike mine, would never collapse. I thought this while looking outside at the solid roofs of the houses surrounding her house, at the endless rows of fencing... My mother wanted me to like where we lived, to like the susurrus of the sea and the way the wind rose from the ocean year-round, to like our house, which was dark and old and sprouted lozenges of mold under the eaves. Because she had wanted me to like it, I said I did. (pp 7-8.)

Or when talking about the fires she set:

I set them as intentionally as I would set the dinner table. Every one of them. I planned them out in the same way my English teacher showed us how to plan an essay. (pg. 192)

So, yes. Really gorgeous writing. But did I like it? Hmm. Did I like it? I think it was just a little too weird for me. I can see that there is an audience that will probably really dig this story. In fact, when I was a teenager I might have really dug this story. I think it's the kind of story you have to work at a little bit - it's not immediately accessible. It's not for everyone, but I think those who are into it will be really into it.

It reminded me a little of I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier (I loved that book in high school). It might be a hit with fans of The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.

Not exactly my cup of tea, but I know that the imagery and characters in this story will stick with me for a long time.