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Saturday, October 19, 2013

the WEIGHT of WATER, written by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2012. $12.00 ages 10 and up

"I'm not welcome to play.
The reason: I'm too white.

No one likes too-white,
Eastern white,
Polish winter white,
Vampire-fright white.

Brown is OK - usually.
But white is too bad. "

Kasienka and her mother have come to England to find her father, who abandoned them in Poland. Living in a dowdy one room apartment is not where Kasienka wants to be, and looking for her father who seems unworthy of their search is not what she wants to be doing. Her mother cannot be consoled, or deterred from the nightly house-to-house searches for Tata:

"The old lady wants to help.
She looks sorry
For not knowing more,
Tells us she will ask her friends
at Tuesday bingo
If they've seen Tata.

Her head rolls to one side,
Heavy with regret,
And this makes me feel

Very small."

School offers no solace for the twelve year old immigrant who has been put in a class with classmates younger than she is because it is assumed that her inability to speak English well means she is special needs. She is treated badly, by teachers and other students, bullied and shunned by a group led by Clair who seems to take great delight in tempting her with friendship and then ignoring her.  It is heartbreaking to hear her describe what she is feeling:

"I knew I'd be different.
I knew I wouldn't understand

But I thought, maybe, I'd be exotic,

Like the red squirrel among the grey,

Like an English girl would be in Gdansk.

But I am not an English girl in Gdansk.
I'm a Pole in Coventry.

And that is not the same thing
At all."

As persistent as Mama is at searching for Tata, so Kasienka is persistent at holding her head high,
and being resilient. While her heart aches, she finds support in William, in swimming and in Kanoro, their neighbor from Kenya.

The palpable sadness that pervades Kasienka's first few months in England is matched by the strength and courage she finds within herself to overcome the struggles she is facing. As I have said before, novels written in verse can be brilliant...this debut novel is just that!

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