East Cobb writer Laura Silverman’s debut novel, “Girl out of Water,” is about and for teenagers, which means I’m about three decades older than the target audience. So it’s a tribute to Silverman’s storytelling ability that it passed my simplest quality test: I couldn’t put the book down even when I had more important things to do, such as edit this
“Girl” is the story of Anise Sawyer, a 17-year-old girl in Santa Cruz, Calif., ready to spend the summer before her senior year in high school doing the only thing she loves: surfing. But her aunt in Nebraska gets into a nearly fatal car crash, and Anise and her father are forced to move halfway across the country to take care of her three younger cousins during Aunt Jackie’s recovery.
Jackie is a widow with a 12-year-old daughter and twin 9-year-old boys. Her family lives in the house she grew up in — the same house where Anise’s mother, Jackie’s sister, lived until she left home for good at age 17.
Anise’s mom is the unseen antagonist of “Girl out of Water.” She abandoned her husband and daughter when Anise was in diapers. She has a habit of popping back into their lives without warning and staying just long enough to get their hopes up before disappearing again.
Needless to say, Anise has abandonment issues, leading to her determination never to leave Santa Cruz. Also needless to say, because this is a young-adult novel, summer winds up being a time of personal discovery as Anise takes emotional and physical risks to learn about herself and confront the hole her wandering mom left in her life.
Silverman took her own risks in breaking the mantra to “write what you know” with her first novel. In a note at the end of the book, she says she has never surfed, and her one attempt at skateboarding — the pastime Anise picks up in Nebraska — ended in “a lot of blood.” She grew up and still lives in metro Atlanta, far from the California coast and Nebraska Plains. She has a disability that limits her mobility and activity; Anise is an athlete who needs the adrenaline rush of riding a big wave or pulling off a risky skateboard trick.
I’m not a surfer, a skateboarder, a Californian or a teenage girl, but as far as I can tell, Silverman is on point with her descriptions:
- Catching a wave — “The cold spray is everywhere, consuming and overpowering. I’m riding the wave, a beautiful and terrifying barrel wave that arcs over my head so that I’m parallel to a wall of rushing water.”
- Trying a new skate trick — “I kick the board into the air. It spins perfectly and effortlessly. Then the board and I both fall to the ground, a cocky grin spreading across my face as I steady my balance with my arms and secure my footing and — WHAM.”
- Falling for a boy — “At that exact moment, Lincoln is unbuttoning his sleeveless plaid shirt and stuffing it in his bag, his defined abs on display. I am doing very little to keep from staring at said abs. … There might be the tiniest bit of drool dripping from the corner of my mouth.” (Don’t worry; the book is strictly PG-13.)
It’s not Faulkner, but the writing gets the job done. And Silverman has some fun insights, such as her speculation that hospitals have McDonald’s because fries bring families together.
The main appeal for me, however, is Silverman’s depiction of the relationship between Anise and her single dad. Their mutual support and understanding and their probably unrealistically open communication provide a moving, powerful reminder of the potential of the father-daughter connection on the eve of Father’s Day.