Thursday, March 27, 2014

Below, by Meg McKinlay

This novel set in Australia has a wonderful beginning sentence: "The day that I was born, they drowned my town." The cover, first line, and premise form an almost irresistible triple hook. Twelve years ago, on the day of Cassie's premature birth, the mayor of her hometown, Old Lower Grange, flipped a lever and buried the town under 200 feet of water. The citizens celebrated the formation of this man-made lake from inside the borders of their new town, New Lower Grange, amid balloons and barbecue and a brass band. Except Cassie's parents, and their perfect two-child family, couldn't go. Because Cassie's parents were rushing to the hospital to have the baby who was doubly unexpected: Not only had they never intended a third child, but she was surprising them by coming way too soon.

Cassie's lungs were underdeveloped at birth, and her doctor requires her to swim six laps a day, every day, to exercise them. But the pool is always overcrowded, and Cassie is tired of people doing cannonballs on top of her when she's just trying to swim her laps. So one day she goes to the man-made lake. Not only is it fascinating because it's Lower Grange's own personal Atlantis, but because her family history lies there, a history that her parents and adult siblings made together that she, a late intruder into their lives, cannot share. Day after day, Cassie begins to swim in the lake, soon joined by Liam, a boy just enough older than she to have been born in Old Lower Grange, and whose family suffered a tragedy there. It doesn't take long before the kids realize the water level is sinking; the top of the fire lookout tree is now several feet above the surface. And then they start diving, and the mayor catches them, and gets way, way too upset. The rest of the plot is concerned with dredging up what the mayor's been trying to keep submerged.

I loved the language and writing style, especially since just prior to this book I'd tried to read another one that was so "loud and chatty" I had to put it down. Also, the midpoint of the plot is absolutely riveting. I had some quibble with the pacing though; I found it a bit slow to get underway and at the same time too rushed in the end. There was some symbolism that just kind of came and went. It's a short read, which in a sense I liked, but in another sense I'd like to have seen way, way more done with this material and these characters. All in all, I enjoyed it. Recommended.

15 comments:

Barbara Watson said...

As you know, I adored this one too. I've never seen a first of a novel so relevant throughout an entire story.

C.R. Evers said...

Sounds fascinating and right up my alley! I'll have to check that one out!

Vijaya said...

Oh, I love your book reviews. Thanks for spotlighting a very interesting story. Isn't Meg a Blueboarder?

Marcia said...

Barbara -- Yes, it really sums up the whole thing, doesn't it?

Christy -- Hope you love it!

Vijaya -- Hmm. I don't know. Is she?

cleemckenzie said...

That's a grabber of a first sentence.

I found it interesting --as well as quite different--that you found the beginning slow, the middle riveting and the end rushed. I'm always finding saggy middles--including a few of my own. :-) In my novels, of course.

Mirka Breen said...

Your recommendations are stellar, Marcia. I think I'm safe following your to-reads without regret.

Marcia said...

Lee -- Lately, I'm thinking that middles SEEM hardest to write but it's actually beginnings that are.

Mirka -- Glad you enjoy them!

janet smart said...

That beginning does hook you. I think the story sounds fascinating and I'm wondering just what the mayor is trying to cover up.

Kelly Hashway said...

Very interesting concept!

Marcia said...

Janet -- Yeah, he's a devious one. :)

Kelly -- Fiction teaches us so much more than people realize. I did not know that in some places they do drown towns!

Leandra Wallace said...

I want to read this even more now! I love water and I love swimming, and swimming over top of a submerged town just sounds super cool. Oh, credit card... ;)

Dawn Malone said...

A great recommendation, Marcia! I love that first line as well. I'm one of those people who are especially drawn to first lines.

Marcia said...

Leandra -- I thought that too about swimming over a submerged town. And you can see that in the cover, which is really enticing.

Dawn -- I'm not big on first lines that seem to be trying too hard. But this one works, I think.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Brilliant opening sentence. Makes me want to dive right in. :-)

Marcia said...

Kim -- Yes, you can't NOT go on to sentence two, right?