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Dark Water

by Laura McNeal

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
287 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-84973-2

Age 14 and older

Podcast featuring this book

Everything in Pearl’s life feels unsettled: money is tight since her dad left; her mom is seriously depressed; and her dad expects Pearl to maintain a relationship with him despite her anger. Along with this, 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. 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 incredible lyricism and profound 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 strikes with gut-wrenching 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 heartwrenching consequences of her actions and choices during the fire, Pearl's thinking is grounded as much in romance as reality in this striking novel that touches on many rich themes: racism and classism, poverty and prejudice, friendship and family, as well as the powerful addiction of falling in love. (MS) ©2010 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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