darkwater15 year old Pearl lives with her recently divorced mother on her uncle’s sprawling California avocado farm.  Uncle Hoyt routinely hires migrant labor to work in the groves and until the day when Pearl notices beautiful, mysterious, quiet Amiel, she’d never thought twice about the undocumented migrant workers’ plight.  But something about shy Amiel speaks to Pearl: he’s beautiful, of course, but there’s more; he’s mute due to a tragic accident in his past, he seems vulnerable and kind, and he’s very reluctant to open up to her overtures of friendship.  Pearl finds herself drawn repeatedly to the quiet bend in the river after she discovers Amiel’s small campsite where he’s been living out his solitary days and nights.  Her feelings for Amiel grow more intense as he slowly allows himself to succumb to her gestures of friendship, and soon those feeling eclipse everyone and everything around her.  When a raging wildfire sweeps through the tinder-dry hills, Pearl makes the desperate choice to stay with Amiel at his river sanctuary, rather than try to lead him out of the valley for fear of capture by the INS, or worse, lose him in the chaos of the fires.

Laura McNeal’s Dark Wateris a story of forbidden romance with tragic consequences.  McNeal heightens the tension throughout the story by repeatedly referring to the impending disaster of the fires as Pearl narrates the story of her doomed romance and the unforeseen turn of events that have changed her life, and the lives of her family, forever.  Amiel’s fear of the INS and Pearl’s decision to choose him over her family and her own safety will undoubtedly be the focal point of discussion of Dark Water: some readers will find this forbidden romance compelling and gut-wrenching, while others, like me, may find Pearl’s headlong rush into danger and Amiel’s willingness to sacrifice his life, and Pearl’s, to escape deportation, aggravating and ill-conceived.  Either way, Dark Water’s topical themes and well-drawn characters will get you thinking.

  • Posted by Cori

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