Monday, July 22, 2013

The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan is a modern immigration story. It is a story about bullying. It is a story of first love, swimming, and discovering your parents aren't as indestructible or noble as you always believed. I was happy to receive an e-galley of this and even more grateful upon reading it.

Carrying just a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother are immigrating to England from Poland. Kasienka isn't the happiest girl in the world. At home, her mother is suffering from a broken heart as she searches for Kasienka's father. And at school, Kasienka is having trouble being the new girl and making friends. The only time she feels comforted is when she's swimming at the pool. But she can't quite shake the feeling that she's sinking. Until a new boy swims into her life, and she learns that there might be more than one way to stayafloat.

Kasienka has such a strong voice. This is a novel told in verse which is something I'm not overly fond of as a rule. Here it works beautifully. Kasienka feels lost, confined, and smothered through a great deal of the story. The brokenness of the blank verse gives the reader a true sense of this. She always feels like she's struggling for air and the way its written makes the reader feel that too. I felt as though I knew Kasienka as I was reading. That could partly be because I taught many immigrant children as a teacher and I saw in her so many of my former students. And the students of other teachers who, as Kasienka states in the book, ignored the horrid spitefulness of the girls in their class because it did nothing to disrupt the order the teacher was trying to maintain. Through Kasienka's eyes the reader gets a view of how bullying amongst girls works. How subtle it is. Mostly though the reader just gets a great story of a girl learning to stand on her feet, knowing her own worth, and relying on herself. Kasienka's strength in the face of her circumstances is amazing. That's not all she is though. She is subtly funny. Her descriptions of her first kiss and all that follows with the boy she shares it with are wonderful.

The action in the story highlights two issues, modern immigration and bullying. Yet neither of these is the entire point of the book. The point is to tell Kasienka's story and these are intrinsically a part of her story. They are her life. I like how both were handled. The immigration story is a real one and I've seen it play out enough times to know Crossan got it right. Likewise, she did an excellent job with the bullying. It is there in schools everywhere exactly as she described, and I LOVED that no one made a big deal about it. No one was turned into a hero. No one learned a valuable lesson. It resolved itself in a way these situations often do. The intentional obliviousness on the behalf of the school employees is also a sad reality and I liked how this was handled as well.

This is a perfect book to give a middle schooler. Kasienka is 12. She has started her period and kisses a boy for the first time. She discusses both of these things as well as other issues of puberty. I think that girls her age will relate to her and her voice. I am certainly going to be book talking it to my daughter in a couple of years. 

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, via Netgalley. The Weight of Water is available for purchase in the US on July 23.

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