The Girl in the Water | Critical Book Review

In “The Girl in the Water” by Joseph Howse, we are presented with a tale that attempts to unravel the intricacies of friendship and family within the backdrop of a post-Chernobyl Soviet Union. While Audrey Davis paints it as a “sincere story,” let’s take a critical plunge into this historical novel.

A Divisive Approach

Howse’s narrative structure divides the novel into four sections with varying chapter lengths, each aptly titled. The plot unfolds as Nadia, a sixteen-year-old girl, embarks on a journey through a 1986 Soviet landscape. However, the author’s decision to withhold crucial information about the characters until Nadia discovers them can be seen as a narrative gimmick.

The Challenge of Teenage Portrayal

Teenage girls, known for their complexity, are a tough nut to crack in literature. Howse attempts to capture Nadia’s emotional depth through italic mental side notes and narrations in parentheses. While this adds a layer of relatability, the sporadic comedic interjections from Ida and Misha might feel forced and disrupt the overall narrative flow.

Human Bonds Amidst Soviet Realities

The core of the story revolves around Nadia’s relationships, particularly with her older sister. Their disagreements and affection for each other create a tangible familial dynamic. However, the absence of a central conflict and the focus on the characters’ day-to-day lives might leave some readers yearning for a more engaging plot.

Engaging Prose with a Ghostly Undertone

Howse’s prose flows smoothly, and the characters are well-developed, even within a large ensemble cast. However, the novel’s lack of a central conflict may lead some to view it as a slice-of-life story. The specters of violence, death, and war, both past and present, loom ominously in the background, never fully realized but always present.

A Resilient Coming-of-Age Story

Nadia’s reflections on the state of the world and her place in it contribute to a coming-of-age narrative that is nuanced and thought-provoking. The author crafts emotionally compelling scenes for each character, emphasizing their diverse life experiences. Although the ending may strike some as abrupt, it ties up loose ends and leaves readers pondering the fates of the characters.

A Recommendation with Reservations

In conclusion, “The Girl in the Water” offers an engaging historical fiction experience with a well-executed coming-of-age theme. It maintains a down-to-earth feel and sprinkles in necessary comedic moments. While not a comprehensive exploration of the historical events and settings it portrays, it manages to educate and entertain simultaneously. However, some may find its unconventional narrative approach a bit polarizing.

Modern Book Details:

PublisherGenrePrint LengthISBN
IndieBookViewLiterary & General Fiction / Historical Fiction316 pages978-0995287853

In “The Girl in the Water” by Joseph Howse, we are presented with a tale that attempts to unravel the intricacies of friendship and family within the backdrop of a post-Chernobyl Soviet Union. While Audrey Davis paints it as a “sincere story,” let’s take a critical plunge into this historical novel. A Divisive Approach Howse’s…