By Laura McNeal
The following is a shortened version of the dust jacket liner: Fifteen-year-old Pearl doesn't pay much attention to the migrant workers on her uncle's avocado grove...until Amiel. After coming across Amiel's makeshift hut near Agua Prieta Creek Pearl falls into a precarious friendship-and a forbidden romance. Then the wildfires strike. Pearl knows that Amiel is right in the path of the fire, so slipping away from safety and her family, Pearl moves toward the dark creek, where the smoke has become air, to warn him.
The dust jacket makes this National Book Award Finalist seem like a modern Romeo & Juliet with a climatic fiery ending. And I suppose it is, but yet it really isn't. Pearl's relationship with Amiel is only half the story. The other half is her relationship with her family: her cousin, her aunt and uncle on whose charity she and her mother live, and her father, who left them. There is also the ever present but never discussed relationship between these (white) people and the dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking people who surround them. The fact that this difficult relationship is not openly discussed gives the book a depth that would have been lost had the author, Laura McNeal, decided she had an axe to grind. There is no preaching, there is simply a description of what is.
One of the things I love about this story is that Pearl makes no excuses for her behavior, or her feelings. Introspection is not one of her stronger personality traits (nor is it for her age group in general), and her lack of questioning oddly makes her likable. Unlike most of the human race, Pearl is a girl who knows what she wants; Pearl wants Amiel, even if she doesn't really know why.
Laura McNeal has written a number of other books with her husband Tom. Their books include Zipped, Crooked, Crushed, and my personal favorite The Decoding of Lana Morris. All of these books feature teenagers in love. Another common theme I've noticed has been parental infidelity. I haven't read every book they've written, but from the ones I've read it seems as though they cover serious issues (foster care, disabilities, homosexuality) through the lens of teen love.
Dark Water is different from their previous books, it was not written by Laura & Tom McNeal, it was written by Laura herself. And unlike their previous books, Dark Water is not so much a look at serious issues through the lens of teen love, but rather a look at teen love through the lens of serious issues. Amiel, Pearl's love, doesn't talk, he mimes. It was his miming that first drew her to him. He tells people he can't talk because of an accident, but later Pearl discovers the accident was his abusive grandfather choking him when he still lived in Mexico. So Amiel can't talk. That's a pretty serious issue: he was abused and now he has a permanent disability. Yet, Amiel's difficulty with speech makes the communication between Amiel and Pearl all the more interesting and endearing. And their communication, is the point of the story.