Dark Water

( 11 )

Overview

Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California, where it’s sunny 340 days of the year, and 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 ...

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Dark Water

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Overview

Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California, where it’s sunny 340 days of the year, and 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.

Then the wildfires strike. Fallbrook—the town of marigolds and palms, blood oranges and sweet limes—is threatened by the Agua Prieta fire, and a mandatory evacuation order is issued. But Pearl knows that Amiel is in the direct path of the fire, with no one to warn him, no way to get out. Slipping away from safety and her family, Pearl moves toward the dark creek, where the smoke has become air, the air smoke.

Laura McNeal has crafted a beautiful and haunting novel full of peril, desperation, and love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McNeal's first solo novel, having written several with her husband, Tom, is a story of illicit romance set against the backdrop of the wildfires that ravaged California in October 2007. McNeal often refers to the coming destruction ("Six months from this day, a fire would leap from east to west, from Rainbow to Fallbrook. Eight lanes is a lot of concrete for a fire to cross"), amplifying the sense of loss--loss of family, loss of financial stability, loss of home, loss of love--that permeates the book. Fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother are living at her Uncle Hoyt's guesthouse, after Pearl's father walked out on them. Enter Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero, an all-but-mute teenage migrant worker who Uncle Hoyt hires, and who instantly captivates Pearl. On some level, both parties are aware that their tentative romance is doomed, but it unfolds nonetheless, and as the fires sweep through, it turns to tragedy. Through the cross-cultural romance feels familiar, McNeal writes with a superior ear for dialogue and eye for detail, particularly in describing the verdant Californian wilds before they're reduced to ash. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Susan Allen
Pearl tells the story of her fifteenth summer. She is living with her mother in the guest house of her uncle's avocado ranch in Fallbrook, California. Her father has left them, and as her mother says, "The wolf is at the door." On a trip into Fallbrook, Pearl's attention is caught by an apparently mute young man who is looking for seasonal migrant work. She convinces her uncle to hire him. Pearl and Amiel's ensuing friendship is complicated by their limited verbal communication, as well as his illegal status. Her interest in the young worker is kept from her mother, her cousin Robby, and her best friend. Throughout Pearl's description of her summer there is a feeling of impending disaster. When the wildfires start and Pearl makes misplaced and life-changing decisions, the result is not a total surprise. The language is evocative. McNeal's description of Fallbrook's streets looking as though they were created by an Etch-A-Sketch allows the reader to clearly picture the layout of the city. The plot is engaging, and the characters are well developed. The reader comes to know a bit of the life of the illegal migrant worker and follow the coming of age of Pearl and her cousin Robby. This is a step above the usual coming-of-age novel. Reviewer: Susan Allen
Kirkus Reviews

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. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Mary Quattlebaum
Although Amiel sometimes seems less a fully realized character than a projection of Pearl's loneliness and need, the particular strength of this haunting story is Pearl's motivation to tell it. She seeks not to excuse but to understand and take responsibility for her actions.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"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
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375849732
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 637,178
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Rhoton McNeal holds a master’s degree in fiction writing from Syracuse University. She taught middle school and high school English before becoming a novelist and journalist.

Together, Laura and her husband, Tom McNeal, are the authors of Crooked, winner of the California Book Award for Juvenile Literature and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults; Zipped, winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children’s Literature; Crushed (called “compelling” by Publishers Weekly); and The Decoding of Lana Morris, a Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Book of the Year.

The McNeals live in Southern California with their two sons, Sam and Hank. To learn more, please visit the authors’ Web site at www.mcnealbooks.com.

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Read an Excerpt

One

You wouldn't have noticed me before the fire unless you saw that my eyes, like a pair of socks chosen in the dark, don't match. One is blue and the other's brown, a genetic trait called heterochromia that I share with white cats, Catahoula hog dogs, and water buffaloes. My uncle Hoyt used to tell me, when I was little, that it meant I could see fairies and peaceful ghosts.

Then I met Amiel, and for six months it seemed true what he whispered in his damaged voice: Tú eres de dos mundos.

He was wrong, of course. You can only belong to one world at a time.

Now that he's gone, I try to see things when I'm alone. I put one hand over my blue eye, and I look south. With my brown eye I can see all the way to Mexico. I fly over freeways and tile roofs and malls and swimming pools. I cross the Sierra de Juárez Mountains and the Sea of Cortés to the place where Amiel was born, and I find the turquoise house with a red door. There are three chairs on the covered patio: one for him, one for me, and one for Uncle Hoyt. I tell myself the chairs are empty because we're not there yet. I watch for as long as I can and when my eye starts to water, I remove my hand.

Tomorrow, I'll look again.

Two

People move to Fallbrook, California, because it's sunny 340 days of the year. They move here to grow petunias and marigolds and palms and cycads and cactus and self-propagating succulents and blood oranges and Meyer lemons and sweet limes and, above all, avocados. They move here to grow them, I should say, or to pick them for other people.

The houses are far apart when you're out in the hills, where trees and petunias grow in straight lines for profit, but once you get close to town, the streets look like something drawn by a child with an Etch A Sketch. No overall plan, no sidewalks, just driveways going off in crazy lines that lead to other driveways, where signs point to other dead-end streets named in Spanish or English with no particular theme—La Oreja Place sticking out of Rodeo Queen Drive leading to Tecolote Avenue, which if it were a sentence would read "the Ear on the Rodeo Queen of the Owl."

The ear and the queen and the owl are overrun with bougainvillea, ivy geraniums, tulip vines, and star jasmine, and that's what makes Fallbrook beautiful from a distance but tangled and confusing up close. It's a place where you can get lost no matter how long you've lived here, and there are only two roads out, something we didn't think much about before the fires began.

Three

I first saw Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero on the corner of one of those Etch A Sketch streets, where Alvarado meets Stage Coach. I was fifteen and he was seventeen, although he told employers he was twenty. I was in my sophomore year of high school and my mother was substitute-teaching because my father had left us, and as my mother was constantly saying over the phone when she thought I wasn't listening, The wolf is at the door.

Every weekday morning at seven-thirty we'd leave my uncle's avocado ranch, where we were living free of rent (but not shame) in the guesthouse. My mother would drink her coffee in the car while she drove, and I would eat dry Corn Pops from a Tupperware bowl. Traffic would bunch up as all the cars going to all the schools had to inch through the same four-way stop at Alvarado and Stage Coach, one corner of which was a day-labor gathering site, meaning Mexican and Guatemalan men would stand around on the empty lot hoping to get a day's work digging trenches, moving furniture, hauling firewood, or picking fruit. The men stared intensely into every car, hoping to win you over before you stopped. Pick me, their faces said. The wolf is at the door.

But on this morning, the men had their backs to the road. Our car rolled slowly to the stop sign, going even slower than usual because the drivers of the cars were staring, too.

When we got close enough, I could see a lanky guy in a flannel shirt and work pants doing some sort of act. Fallbrook calls itself the Avocado Capital of the World, so you don't live here without seeing guys pick avocados. Mostly it's done on high ladders, but there's also this funky tool like a lacrosse stick with a six-foot handle. You stick the pole way up in the tree, hook the avocado, yank, then lower the pole so you can drop the fruit into a huge canvas bag you're wearing slung over one shoulder and across your chest. That's what Amiel was doing that morning, only without the pole, the sack, the tree, or the avocado.

"What in the world?" my mom asked.

"He's picking imaginary fruit," I said.

She snuck a look. "That's the oddest thing I've ever seen."

"Can we hire him?"

She snorted. It was our turn to dart through the intersection just as Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero touched his imaginary avocado-picking pole to a live electrical wire and received an imaginary jolt, which made all the day-labor guys laugh.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 6, 2010

    A haunting story

    My thoughts...Dark Water is a book based on actual events. The fires in California are a reality many people deal with regularly. The characters, while fictional, felt very real as did their fear. This story left me with goosebumps.

    The beginning of Dark Water started off slow. There was quite a bit of character development and few side stories that distracted me. The love story between Pearl and Amiel took a while to develop and fell a bit short. I would begin to feel a strong pull between the two of them, then it cooled. The characters are not in an ideal situation to develop a relationship. This is a story with forbidden love.

    While Dark Water does have some of the elements of a love story, the real action is found in the fire. You know it's coming, you know it's going to be devastating, and you fear it. This book started off slow, then suddenly becomes extremely intense. It was sad, frightening, and exciting all at the same time. The adrenaline of the main characters becomes contagious as you pray for their safety. Then the ending...well, not all stories have a happy ending, especially when you are dealing with real life.

    Dark Water is a great book for those who are looking for a realistic YA story. I am glad I stuck with it and finished the book. It gave me a better understanding of fear that victims of these fires experience and it will stick with me for a long time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2013

    It is a...

    I loved the read but I didn't get as involved in the book plenty of times I found myself skimming pages. Still a hood solid read an the story is truly lovely

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  • Posted November 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Laura McNeal shares the poignant story of a young girl dealing w

    Laura McNeal shares the poignant story of a young girl dealing with abandonment, complex family relationships, and forbidden love. Within just a few pages, the reader will find a connection to Pearl, the high school aged protagonist, and a desire to see how her story develops and resolves. The story is rich with description and character development, but it never holds the story back. You will glide through Pearl's story and find that at times you are unable to put it down. Kudos to McNeal, for giving YA readers a rich, realistic story, that is different from the typical dystopian or fantasy reads that are overwhelming the market.

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  • Posted November 10, 2012

    This book is important for grades 6 through 12 as it deals with

    This book is important for grades 6 through 12 as it deals with many issues teens face as well, as well as revealing the lives of migrant workers. The story is excellent, the writing is excellent, the discussion possibilities for class are numerous and rich, and it is a book teens will want to read. The protagonist is a 15 year old girl who befriends a migrant worker youth who lives entirely on his own due to a family situation. There is some romance (kissing only) so it is suitable for the classroom. Social studies classes would benefit from the information in the story. The fire in the book is based on real events many people have dealt with or know about. The craft of writing could be studied from sentences throughout the book. A great YA (young adult) read.

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  • Posted February 5, 2011

    this is a fantastic book!!!

    this book is amazing!!!!! i would recommend this book to anyone!!:)

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