Francesca Lia Block,
The Waters & the Wild
(Harper Teen, 2009)

Beatrice -- Bee to everyone she knows -- doesn't feel quite like she belongs in her own skin. That's not too uncommon among teenagers, really, but in Bee's case, she might be right.

Her doubts begin to crystalize after a girl who looks exactly like her -- her changeling? fetch? doppleganger? -- appears in her room and demands her life back. The situation spirals from there as Bee, who is disconnected with her family as well as her peers at school, tries to figure out who or what she is. The fact that she finally makes two friends -- both, in their own ways, as unusual as she is (one thinks he is the spawn of an alien, the other believes she is a reincarnated slave; together, they are pretty sure they can fly and turn invisible) -- is as much an impediment as it is an aid to her inner quest.

And what if Bee really isn't who she thinks she is? Does she yield herself to this mysterious duplicate or fight for the only life she knows?

This moody, young-adult fantasy benefits a great deal from author Francesca Lia Block's lyrical style of writing. Rich, descriptive prose could easily become poetry with only a nudge or two in the right direction. (The title, The Waters & the Wild, is borrowed from Yeats' classic poem, "The Stolen Child.")

"Who are you, then?"

She scowled at him. Even if she pretended (I am a thirteen-year-old double Gemini girl -- Scorpio moon -- who lives with her therapist mom and her mom's astrologer boyfriend in Venice, California; I go to school, where I get bad grades; I write poetry with my left hand, dance in my room, read books, listen to music, Google images of goblins and the tattoos my mom won't let me get, dream of devouring my garden), she really had no idea.

It's amazing how much we learn about Bee's personality in that short paragraph, and how perfectly musical that stream-of-consciousness description suits her.

I read this book in one sitting. It is, at 113 pages, short enough to read quickly, but the narrative also gets its teeth into you and doesn't let go easily. (I tried to stop reading for the night at least twice, but never managed to put the book down until I had finished.) There is a social conscience at work here, as well as a struggle for identity through fantasy that reflects, in some ways, Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia.

It's another beautiful book from Francesca Lia Block.

review by
Tom Knapp

7 November 2009

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