by Valerie MendesPublished by Simon & Schuster Children's UK
on August 1, 2005Genres: YA
, YA Contemporary Pages:
More than anything, sixteen-year-old Jenna wants to dance, not just in her studio in St Ives, or in her local class, but professionally, in London, under the eyes of the best teachers in the world. She knows her father will support her all the way; that her aunt will help with the fees and give her a home in the big city. Her mother, however, is a problem. She remains unconvinced of Jenna’s talents and pours scorn on her dreams.
But then a fatal accident blows Jenna’s Cornish life and family apart. Left in her care one hot summer’s afternoon, her beloved younger brother, Benjie, drowns behind some lethal rocks. Blaming herself entirely, guilty and grief-stricken, Jenna puts all her plans on hold. She relinquishes her hard-fought place at ballet school to support her father and their family-run café, valiantly trying to pretend this is the life she wants.
Until she finds Benjie’s diary and starts to probe its secrets. It seems he was being bullied at school; that a pair of twins could have been involved. Jenna finds it impossible to discover who they are and whether they can give her any new details about Benjie’s death.
But a chance meeting with someone who was there with her that tragic afternoon could help. Who is he and what can he reveal? What does Jenna discover that puts the accident in a whole new light?
And will she find the courage and determination to pursue her dancing dream?
Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?
Once upon a time, I knew a website that posted daily about all sorts of free books I could download onto my Kindle and free stuff = good stuff, so I downloaded pretty much all the YA they ever posted about. Then I started reading the books I’d downloaded and realized most of them were awful. That’s why I can’t even remember the site’s name anymore! I just remember The Drowning was one of the titles I found out about through the website and happily acquired. Well, now I’m unhappy four years later because this is just bad.
There’s content here that works well, which makes the end result all the more disappointing. Jenna has the foundation for a great character and I genuinely cared about her. It actually isn’t that easy to make me care for a character, let alone one in a novel as flawed as this, but Mendes did it! As the novel went on, the potential for nuanced emotional scenes was clear on just about every page. Already-cruel mom gets crueler and more depressed? Time to let out some secrets! Dad reconnects with a friend from his youth? Hmmmm, that sounds like a recipe for infidelity.
But we don’t get any character development, nuance, or emotion from The Drowning. Each scene reads like a summary of what’s happening, not an in-the-moment description that readers will get sucked into. An entire eleven months pass from the first page of the book to the last, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Indiscriminate and heavily summarized timeskips are common and even the passages where we are in the moment with Jenna and her family feel like an outline, not a fleshed out scene.
Because the novel skips along like that, we miss character development. Jenna goes from pursuing dance to giving it up to taking it up again because her romance with a lifeguard encourages her to. As if it isn’t problematic enough that she only wants to dance again because of her bland love interest! If she ever longed to get back to dance for her own sake, we never witness signs of it, like her staring longingly at her studio or composing a dance in her head when she hears a good song. That is how to do characterization and character development: showing us the little things.
Once it comes up that Benjie’s brother was enduring bullying at school and his death might have been related to that, it’s a great opportunity to paint the portrait of a sister whose grief turns into anger and she has to question herself about whether she should seek revenge against these middle school bullies or not. The outline of that plotline is there, but once again, there’s no emotional depth to it. When the whole tale unraveled, I felt nothing–and I love a good vengeance story.
It bothers me as well that both major figures in her life as she’s recovering from her brother’s death are men. Her two best friends, fellow dancers, are completely shut out of her life. Jenna only has her pushover of a father and the love interest she decides to take up dance again for. It’s honestly sad to read when I’m used to so many novels with women on every page and plenty of female friendships.
The formatting isn’t great either. For some reason, the first paragraph of each chapter or section would be single-spaced and then the rest would be double-spaced until the chapter ended or a new section began. Rinse and repeat. Commas often lacked the necessary space after them. You take away the space that follows a comma and everything just looked smushed together.
As the saying goes, I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed. The Drowning is what happens when you take part in NaNoWriMo, get your 50,000 words by writing summaries of scenes you expect you’ll expand on later, and then you decide you’ll publish it as-is without any editing whatsoever. I’m honestly glad The Drowning is no longer available in the Kindle store because work so poor isn’t ready for the public eye no matter how old it is.