Book Review: The Girl in the Water
Reviewed by Audrey Davis
A sincere story of friendship and family
Joseph Howse’s The Girl in the Water provides a window into lives of those who may not otherwise be seen.The novel follows sixteen-year-old Nadia, her older sister, and a few of their friends and family as they navigate a 1986 Soviet Union landscape, shortly following the Chernobyl disaster.
The author divides the novel into four sections and breaks it into chapters from there, all varying in length and all of them aptly titled. The reader learns about the lives of the characters as Nadia discovers them, including things that she has never known before—because the character hasn’t wanted to tell it.
Teenage girls can be challenging to portray, but with Nadia, the reader gets a strong sense of how she feels about her experiences and the others she meets from her italic mental side notes and narrations in parentheses. These, combined with sporadic comedic interjections from Ida and Misha, give the novel an exceptional feeling of humanity and relatability.
The reader is given a glimpse of Nadia’s student life and her future plans, but the focus is on her relationships with her friends, especially her older sister, and it is all very tangible; of course they occasionally disagree, but readers can sense their love for each other, as “[s]iblings are fellow outcasts in an adventure of mortality.”
The prose flows nicely, the characters are well-rounded and interesting, and even though there is a large cast of characters, the reader is never overwhelmed, even with setting. This could be considered a slice-of-life novel, as there isn’t a main conflict per se, but images of violence, death, war and its aftermath—all past and present—loom around them like ghosts they can’t escape, in their travels, letters, and interactions.
Nadia’s reflections and new understandings of the state of the world and her place in it make the story a resilient coming-of-age story, fleshed out and given life outside of a major conflict. The author includes emotional, compelling scenes with every character, as each one has been dealt a vastly different hand of cards. While the ending is somewhat abrupt, it is neatly concluded, leaving the reader’s mind to ponder about Nadia, her plans for her future, and where these characters might be in present day.
I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to those looking for engaging historical fiction with a well-executed coming of age story. It feels very down-to-Earth and includes necessary comical moments throughout. I did not know much about the events or places in this book before, but after finishing it and doing a little extra curiosity research, I’m thankful to have learned something new in such an engaging way.
Genre: Literary & General Fiction / Historical Fiction
Print Length: 316 pages
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