Review: H2O by Virginia Bergin (Oct. 2014)

H2O, by Virginia Bergin

$16.99, SourceBooks
336 pages, HC
October 2014
Age 14+

Edited to add:

The review, which you will find below, was written a few days ago. Days during which I found myself looking at the sky. At the clouds. All the time. Through my windshield as I was driving, above my head as I crossed the street to the shop across from my bookstore, through my bedroom window when I woke in the morning. I’ve always liked clouds, but now I look at them and judge which kind they are. Judge if they are the kind that can change into rain clouds.

Clearly the book was more effective on a visceral level than I first thought. All character and narrative flaws aside, the book assuredly does seep under the skin. It was raining when I left the bookstore just after I wrote the critical review which follows this addition: I hesitated a long time before stepping out into it.

* * *

First of all, I’m not going to give away the plot here. It’s critical to the story, and even though I’m going to ruin it for some simply by talking about some of the plot mechanics, I don’t want to ruin it further.

Sadly, I could tell from the start that this was the author’s first novel, or at least her first foray into young adult fiction. The voice of the protagonist (first-person), Ruby, is supposed to be that of a fifteen-year-old girl getting ready to take her A-level exams in the UK, and sometimes she does indeed sound like and act like a fifteen-year-old, but a great deal of the time the language, actions, and tone lapse into someone more resembling an eight-year-old girl. Whether this is the author’s or editor’s fault isn’t clear, but it pulled me out of the narrative so many times, the book got a bit spoiled for me. The tension didn’t hold.

The “magic” of why the outer space microorganisms in the earth’s atmosphere—which seeded into the rain cycles and therefore all water cycles of the planet—only affected humans and not any type of animal (not simians? we don’t know, even though she did pass the London Zoo), not trees, not birds, not any plant life at all, is never explained. The science behind this bothered me a bit: iron is mentioned, but the iron content in the blood of many animals is as high as humans. Perhaps I’m asking too much from a young adult novel, but I usually expect young adults to ask these sorts of questions as keenly or even more keenly than adults.

Though Ruby’s journey to and from London, in search of her father, was a typical young adult “journey of self-discovery” story, it did have a lot of the elements of the post-apocalyptic story to it, which—again—made it a bit derivative. The one saving grace, for me as a reader, was that there was no happy ending, no smiling reunion, just more waiting ahead for her, more surviving. I wish the author had emphasized that a bit more instead of wrapping it up in a bow of “and now I’m going to sit here and wait for my dad in this stinky house and la la la it’ll be fine” where it appears nothing has changed for Ruby, even though she’s been on the journey to hell and back, and in many ways is still in hell.

(By the way, why has she never moved those bodies in the upstairs of her family home? I understand she doesn’t want to/can’t bury them due to fears of water in the soil, and her inability to look at her mom and the boyfriend and the baby lying in puddle of goo and rotting, but getting rotting bodies out of the house for sanitation’s sake would, I would think, be crucial. I was surprised they didn’t do it at the beginning of the book, and when she returns at the end and still doesn’t do it, I felt like shouting at the character through the pages.)

I’m surprised to see this being released as a hardcover; it’s more of a trade paperback sort of book in tone and audience. With Christmas coming, it’s possible young adults will want it for the holidays, though it certainly isn’t a “feel good” sort of story overall. But if they like post-apocalyptic, blood and gore, girls who can’t drive clutch cars, girls who are more worried about makeup and clothes than the end of the world, perhaps this is the book for them.

reviewed by
Nancy C. Hanger
owner, Star Cat Books, Bradford, VT

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