Monday, 29 April 2013

The Weight of Water, by Sarah Crossan

Continuing with the Carnegie Shortlist for 2013...

Flicking thorough these books when they first arrived, I thought how much the layout of this book put me off.  It looks like a collection of poems, not your usual left to right blocks of text.

Having now read it, I can see how the form makes sense for the story.  Cassie has moved to Coventry from Poland with her mother.  Their only reason is looking for Tata, Cassie's step-dad, who disappeared to England and left them alone. 

Cassie speaks in the first person about how much of a struggle it is to be an alien in a new country, to live in a single room and to be the new kid at school.  She has to try and prove that being Polish does not make her stupid and to attempt to blend in at her new school, avoiding the pack of back-stabbing girls, constantly seeking each other's approval and desperately trying to be popular with their ringleader.  Her mother stalks the streets of Coventry every day looking for Tata and becoming more and more withdrawn and depressed.  All Cassie wants is a friend and to be able to join the school Swimming Team.

Returning to the form then.  The poetic structure makes sense to me now.  A poet chooses their words carefully in order to create the effect that they want.  Somebody speaking a second language must choose their words carefully too, out of accuracy.  In addition, Cassie is a poetic character, she constructs beautiful sentences, notes and letters- some of which she shares with their recipient, some are kept between narrator and reader.  I found that I really cared about Cassie, she's simply a nicer person than the girls in her school and proves that time and time again.

A very quick, well written book that suggests that the individual will always stand out amongst a crowd and that being yourself will always make you happy.  I can see why this title made the shortlist: it's accessible, it's full of real characters and it's relevant to the lives of a lot of girls.  Even if someone has never moved to another country, it's possible that they've felt victimised or isolated and have struggled to overcome something new and scary.  Personally I don't think we have a winner here, medal wise, but we do have an excellent book that I shall be recommending to struggling readers.

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