Book Review: Dark Water
By: Laura McNeal
Narrated By: Eileen Stevens
Published By: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: October 2011
Audio Length: 6 hours, 27 minutes
Audience: Young Adult - Realistic Fiction
On the Writing & Story:
Dark Water is a complex story that lingers in your mind long after you have finished. Migrant workers, racism, and family drama all receive attention. This read is particularly relevant for teens today in light of some of the hateful and hurtful things that have been said against Mexicans in the United States. The lives of workers who are here illegally are not easy ones. Perhaps this book will help teens think before they spew hateful words at others.
The book tells Pearl's story. She is a fifteen year old girl who lives with her mother in the guest house on her uncle's avocado farm in southern California. Pearl's family has plenty of their own problems. Her dad walked out and took his support (both financial and emotional) with him. Pearl's mother never had to work before, but now she struggles to make ends meet by substitute teaching and working at a restaurant in town. Losing their house and all of their nicer possessions has taken its toll on both Pearl and her mother. Each of them has had to learn to cope with a more modest lifestyle. That's not always easy considering the wealth that surrounds them.
Pearl's life takes an unexpected turn when she first sees Amiel, a young man looking for work. She convinces her uncle to hire him and her life will be forever altered based on that one decision. Amiel is Mexican and he is in the United States illegally. He fears being found out and sent back home to Mexico. Amiel makes his home in a nature preserve because he has no other choice. To make matters worse, he suffered an injury to his throat as a child and doesn't speak often. Pearl discovers Amiel's secret and they form a friendship that soon turns into much more.
Dark Water has some elements of Romeo and Juliet. By society's standards, Pearl and Amiel should not be allowed to love one another. However, like most teens, Pearl is stubborn and focused on what she wants. She doesn't care what others think about her decision. I have to admire her for following her heart. Not everyone would be strong enough. However, I was frustrated with Pearl throughout most of this book. I know that love can make us do crazy things, but love made Pearl someone I wouldn't want to be around. She was selfish and didn't stop to think about her actions would affect others. I found it interesting that Pearl hated her father for his choices, but then she makes choices along the same lines. She is just as bad if not worse than he is in many ways. I could never have done some of the things Pearl does - even as a teen in love.
McNeal's writing is solid and this story is haunting, but overall I just couldn't find it in my heart to understand Pearl. Her actions wounded me. I struggled with how to rate this book, but in the end I decided I needed to balance my feelings with the merits of the book. I didn't enjoy the characters, but there are so many wonderful things about this read that makes it worth the time.
On the Audio:
The audio was well done, but it was nothing special. I was so angry with Pearl throughout most of this that I don't think I would have finished the book if it had not been on audio. Listening to it gave me a bit more tolerance than I would have had otherwise. This book was overwhelming at times - there is the family issues, the race issues, the love story, and the fire. It was a lot to process.
One Last Gripe: I don't feel like Pearl had enough remorse for the consequences of her actions.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved learning about the avocado growing process
First Sentence: You wouldn't have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don't match.
Favorite Character: I didn't really like any of the characters
Least Favorite Character: Pearl
Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California, where it's sunny 340 days of the year, and where her uncle owns a grove of 900 avocado trees. Uncle Hoyt hires migrant workers regularly, but Pearl doesn?t pay much attention to them . . . until Amiel. From the moment she sees him, Pearl is drawn to this boy who keeps to himself, fears being caught by la migra, and is mysteriously unable to talk. And after coming across Amiel's makeshift hut near Agua Prieta Creek, Pearl falls into a precarious friendship?and a forbidden romance.Then the wildfires strike. Fallbrook ? the town of marigolds and palms, blood oranges and sweet limes ? is threatened by the Agua Prieta fire, and a mandatory evacuation order is issued. But Pearl knows that Amiel is right in the path of the fire, with no one to warn him, no way to get out. Slipping away from safety and her family, Pearl moves toward the dark creek, where the smoke has become air, the air smoke. Laura McNeal has crafted a beautiful and haunting novel full of peril, desperation, and love.