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Dark Water Hardcover – September 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up–The catastrophic wildfires that ravaged Southern California in 2007 serve as the backdrop for this compelling story of a forbidden romance with tragic consequences. In the inland farming community of Fallbrook, 15-year-old Pearl tells her story through a leisurely voice. She deals with her parents' divorce; her cousin's anger at his father's suspected adultery; and, most significantly, her undeniable attraction to the alluring undocumented Mexican migrant worker Amiel, whose damaged vocal chords limit his speech but not his communication. Disaster is referred to throughout the narrative, filling readers with a sense of foreboding as Pearl's persistence overcomes Amiel's trepidation and the two draw together in an intense secret affair. All of this leads to a heart-pounding final act when the wildfire breaks out and Pearl must choose between family and romance, safety and uncertainty. The ramifications of the ill-fated decisions made by both Pearl and Amiel will surely spark strong discussion among readers. Both the plot and setting are grounded in rich, realistic detail; the author's love for the town of Fallbrook shines vividly through lyrical descriptions of avocado groves and orange blossoms. While Amiel remains a somewhat mysterious figure, Pearl's relationships with her family and friends are fully realized through her nostalgic recollections of simpler times. Drawn in by the appeal of clandestine love and looming disaster, teens will also be rewarded with much thought-provoking substance in this novel's complex characters and hauntingly ambiguous ending.Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


"This debut solo effort after several collaborations with husband Tom McNeal (The Decoding of Lana Morris, 2007, etc.) stands out in the crowded coming-of-age field. The affecting narrative springs believably from the first-person thoughts of Pearl DeWitt as she recalls her 15th summer, when, entranced by a nearly mute, illegal Mexican migrant worker, the beautiful and gifted teenage Amiel, Pearl makes choices that lead to tragedy. Evocative language electrifies the scenes between the pair, as they develop a relationship both complicated and deepened by their limited verbal communication. Her warnings to readers of impending disaster amplify rather than diminish the impact of the misguided, wrenching decisions she makes when a raging wildfire sweeps through their rural California community. Besides her poignant relationship with Amiel, Pearl navigates her father’s recent abandonment of her and her mother and her complicated relationship with her cousin Robby as he blunderingly deals with his father’s apparent infidelity. Notable for well-drawn characters, an engaging plot and, especially, hauntingly beautiful language, this is an outstanding book."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 0970 (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375849734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375849732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,733,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laura Rhoton McNeal has a master's degree in fiction writing from Syracuse University and taught 8th, 9th, and 11th grade English in Salt Lake City. She has been married for more than 20 years to Tom McNeal, with whom she collaborated first on a picture book called The Dog Who Lost His Bob and then on four critically-acclaimed young adult novels published by Knopf. Her solo novel, Dark Water, was published in 2010 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Tom and Laura live with their two boys in southern California.

Note: Photo copyright Jeff Lucia

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By sanoe.net VINE VOICE on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I picked up Laura McNeal's Dark Water because of the setting: Fallbrook, California.

Fallbrook was one of those magical places of my childhood. A place where my memories are faded yet still triggers feelings of happiness.

As such, I got the book and I'm pleased that I did so.

Pearl DeWitt is a 15 year old whose father has left her and her mother. Both of them are reeling in different ways. They've gone to live on her mother's brother's avocado ranch. It is clear that Pearl admires her Uncle Hoyt. He employs migrant workers to pick the avocado trees. From Pearl's description of him, the reader knows that her Uncle Hoyt is a good man.

Now 15 is a transition age and Pearl is right in the middle of that transition. Her best friend has become some guy's girlfriend while she's still being ignored by most boys. She has a normal relationship with her mother but given how her father exited their lives, it is under stress.

Into her life comes a boy who is different from her in ways that makes her push the boundaries that surround her.

Amiel is a migrant worker. He's not a big talker but he has a way about him. Enough that Hoyt picks him up to work.

Pearl becomes intrigued by him and eventually, they form a friendship.

It isn't hard to see where this is going. He's 17, she's 15. Both are in need of a friend and perhaps a little more.

In this day and age, one would think that a relationship between Pearl and Amiel would be a 'Romeo & Juliet' scenario but McNeal reminds the reader of why it is.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on March 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I just don't get it, why is it necessary to sell every YA book as some romance story, regardless of its actual content?

Just take a look at "Dark Water's" publisher provided description: "Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California... 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."

Seriously, doesn't it sound like another "Perfect Chemistry" white girl/brown boy, wrong-side-of-the-track type of story which "Dark Water" absolutely is not?

Instead, this is a beautifully written, quality literary YA fiction about one girl's confusing summer when she has to deal with many difficult things - her father's infidelity, her mother's unraveling and her cousin's obsessive revenge plans. Yes, there is Amiel, but is it romance between them or a misguided infatuation that ends up costing Pearl way too much?

A combination of flawless writing, descriptive and atmospheric without being overwrought and over-ornamented by flowery adjectives and laughable similes, complex relationships and realistic characters, is what makes this novel worthy of its National Book Award acclaim, and definitely not the "forbidden romance" aspect of it.

If you, like me, are a fan of Sara Zarr's quiet, introspective novels rather than Simone Elkeles's get-in-her-pants-on-a-dare/sex-in-the-garage romances, "Dark Water" is a book for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Carrie Keyes on November 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Laura McNeal's National Book Award nominated Dark Wateris plunge-worthy, and not just for the young adult audience it is intended to entertain. Young or old, if you jump into Dark Water, the fire will blaze right over your head.

Dark Water, if I may, is like Little Bee: A Novelmeets The Tortilla Curtainmeets Romeo and Juliet for young adults. McNeal fluidly introduces the concepts of cultural and racial diversity, refuge and illegal immigration in a global economy for young adults by wrapping it--beautifully--in a forbidden love story between Pearl, an endearing teenage girl who lives on an avocado ranch in the bedroom community of Fallbrook, and the street-smart Amiel, a Mexican migrant teen who picks alligator pears for Pearl's uncle and lives in a lean-to hut in the woods. McNeal explores sophisticated, contemporary issues within the context of the audience for which she writes, and this is precisely why Dark Water is more than a novel for young adult readers. It is a novel for mankind, and it must win the National Book Award on November 17, 2010.

Dark Water is a lyrical story firmly rooted in San Diego County, with lush botanical descriptions that grow around the pages in a thicket of finely woven prose. The vivid imagery of Lemon Drop Ranch where Pearl resides is populated with her newly single mother, her uncle and aunt, and her cousin.
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