Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shark Girl's Got An Affecting Bite

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Jane Arrowood never appreciates how normal her life is until suddenly ... it isn't. When the 15-year-old is attacked by a shark while swimming in the ocean, everything changes in an instant. Not only does she lose her right arm, but her plight becomes a very public one. While her hospital room fills with cards, flowers, and sob stories from complete strangers, Jane's boiling on the inside. She never asked to be anyone's role model. All she wants is to rewind her life. If she could only go back, she would avoid the water like the plague. Instead, she has to face high school, her friends, her future as a one-armed freak. Sometimes, she wishes the shark had just killed her right then and there.
As much as Jane has longed to leave the hospital, she's not quite prepared for the real world. Her mother coddles her, her older brother snaps at her, and her friends can never seem to say the right things. All the tasks Jane used to do with ease - drawing, cooking for her family, even tying a trash bag - are now hopelessly complicated. Add in fierce phantom pains, horrific nightmares, and the constant staring, and Jane's life pretty much sucks. Who would want to hang out with someone like her, let alone date her or hire her for a job? The shark, she comes to realize, didn't just take her arm, it took her whole life. Will she ever get it back?
Shark Girl, a debut YA novel by Kelly Bingham, is the affecting story of a girl's loss and her struggle to come to terms with it. Written in free verse, the novel's a quick read, but one that lingers in your mind long after you finish it. While the ending may be a little too tra-la-la, the rest of it seems real enough. Jane goes through all the stages of grief as a completely sympathetic character - the reader feels her suffering keenly. It's impossible not to empathize when we're given passages like this one:
Nurse: "You're so brave, Jane."
Hospital vounteer: "You are a hero."
Physical therapist: "You're a real survivor, know that?"

When people talk like that,
I could get up and slip away
and they'd still stand there,
talking to the cartoon cloud
they've drawn over my body.

Just once,
I'd like someone to say,
"Jane, you are a mess" (52).
Ultimately hopeful, Shark Girl reminds us of the natural resilience of human beings. It's a triumphant story that preaches tolerance, compassion and the futility of self-pity. You don't need to have your flesh shredded by a shark to relate to Jane's story. It just happens as you follow this terrified, tenacious girl who's forced into battle, not with a shark, but against life itself. You won't want to tote this novel along on your next beach trip. You will want to read it. And soon.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of any. Can you?)
Grade: B
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language (no F-bombs)
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Shark Girl from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. I'm always a little skeptical of verse novels, and I shouldn't be. The one that I did read was really, truly excellent. Shark Girl sounds like another good one to try. Thanks for the great review!

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