Sunday, 17 October 2010
Review: Shark Girl - Kelly Bingham
Jane's first-person narrative is structured as a series of poems, each focusing on a separate incident or revelation that our protagonist experiences on her journey. Read in sequence, they tell the full story of that journey - from the fateful day on the beach when sheer bad luck put Jane in the path of the shark that attacked her, to the point when she is finally able to find some resolution and move on with her life. Unlike other verse novels I've read, Shark Girl isn't an especially lyrical approach to its subject matter; its strength lies more in the conciseness and clarify with which Kelly Bingham tells Jane's story. The beauty of her writing is that no words are wasted.
In many ways Jane's just an ordinary fifteen-year-old schoolgirl; sometimes superficial, sometimes selfish, no braver than the rest. She liked art and cooking, fought with her brother and hung out with a close-knit group of friends. Before, this was enough. She didn't really need to be brave or to put herself in the shoes of others. But now, with the shark attack having made national news, she receives letters from total strangers telling their own stories of survival - how they too lost an arm or a leg and, while devastated at first, eventually pulled through. Some of their letters are interspersed throughout the story, and while the reader is touched by the words of these people reaching out to Jane, she isn't - at least, not at first. She's angry and bitter and doesn't believe that she has the strength of all these other survivors. This isn't the story of a courageous and determined girl overcoming a tragic loss. It's the story of a regular girl finding the courage and determination she needs to get her life back, and that's what makes it such an inspiring read.
Although the story itself is gently paced, the rhythym of Kelly Bingham's verse is always just compelling enough to keep the reader turning the pages. This isn't an edge-of-your-seat read, but it is a book that lets you into its narrator's head; that lets you really feel the subtle nuances of her emotions as though you're living through her recovery with her. While at one point it starts to look as though Jane will be saved by an all-too-convenient romantic development, Shark Girl actually winds up making the point that friends and family can help, but that sometimes you need to save yourself. Ideal for readers looking to sample YA verse for the first time, Shark Girl is hopeful and enigmatic in a way that anyone who has experienced a great loss will relate to.
Out: April 10th 2007, US