Dark Water

by Laura McNeal

Everything in Pearl’s life feels unsettled: money is scarce, her mom is depressed,... read more

Everything in Pearl’s life feels unsettled: money is scarce, her mom is depressed, her best friend is consumed with a new boyfriend, and her cousin, Robby, is sure his dad—Pearl’s beloved uncle—is having an affair. Then there’s her dad, who left her mom and expects Pearl to treat him like nothing between them has changed. Pearl first notices Amiel miming the work of picking fruit on the corner where day laborers stand in hopes of getting chosen for a job. Amiel doesn’t speak because of a crushed larynx, but Pearl is drawn to his graceful movements and the soft whisper of a voice he eventually reveals. In the country illegally from Mexico, Amiel has cobbled together a shack in the woods to avoid being discovered by law enforcement, but Pearl can hardly see the reality of his spare, lonely existence because the time she spends with him feels so charged with possibility. Laura McNeal’s magnetic story is woven with lyricism and honesty, not to mention moments of deprecating humor. Told in flashback, it’s always clear the novel will culminate with a devastating fire, but McNeal skillfully builds the tension so that when tragedy strikes, it does so with shocking power and surprise. Through Pearl’s voice McNeal creates an affecting portrait of a teen who is still unformed—a true adolescent. Even at the novel’s end, as she lives with the heart-wrenching consequences of her actions during the fire, Pearl’s thinking is grounded as much in romance as reality. This striking novel touches on many rich themes: racism and classism, poverty and prejudice, friendship and family, and the powerful draw of falling in love. (Age 14 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2011

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