Monday, October 8, 2012

Surface Tension - Meg McKinlay

Sometimes things are not as they seem. Underneath what appears bright and shiny on the surface may lurk something unforseen. And just as water plays tricks with the light, so that a submerged rod seems twisted and broken, sometimes a different version of the truth can apply a filter over history. Until someone breaks the surface.
Casssie won’t ever have the chance to see the house her brother and sister played in as children, the house her parents left behind when she was born. She won’t even be able to visit Old Lower Grange, the town where they lived. Because on the day she was born – eight weeks early – Mayor Finkle pulled the handle that sent mega litres of water coursing down the hill to drown the town and convert it into a dam. Twelve years on, the residents of New Lower Grange are preparing to celebrate the centenary of the town, and to commemorate the pulling of the lever at the same time. But Cassie’s focus is not on the small-town preparations, nor on the six laps she must swim every day at the local pool on account of her compromised lung function; her focus lies somewhere else.
For as long as she can remember, Cassie has been fascinated with the town under the dam. She has studied old maps and newspaper clippings, she has listened at the back of her mother’s history class at the local high school, and she has quizzed her sister, Hannah, who works at the council. More than this, however, Cassie has a knowing. It’s unexplainable and it’s about something not even she can identify.
So one day she decides to ignore the No Entry and Trespassers Prosecuted signs on the other side of the dam. Here she can swim her laps in peace, with no used bandaids floating around and no one to jump on her head. But more than that, she can swim in the knowledge that underneath her, beneath the dark water, lies her Atlantis. And even when her private swimming place is discovered by Liam, who ends up sharing it with her, the summer holidays settle into a happy routine.
Until the dam gives up a shocking secret.
This is a book that is impossible to put down. Meg McKinlay infuses the text with an air of foreboding, and with some adroit foreshadowing, cleverly sets down clues for the reader to grapple with as the story unfolds. Cassie is a strong character that children will relate to. She does not accept the status quo. She knows that something has been glossed over, that there is more to the story of the flooding of Old Lower Grange than is being told. She is not afraid to ask questions, to follow her instinct, to delve into the depths of a mystery that beckons to be solved. She is compassionate, she is persistent and she has a sense of humour. She has an inner strength and hunger for truth that invites the reader to search for within themselves.
A thoroughly engaging read. Highly recommended.
Walker Books 2011
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 26, Issue 2, May 2011)

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