Feb 3, 2013

Shark Girl, by Kelly Bingham

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Intended Age-Group: 12+ (recommended 15+)
Issues of Violence: none
Intimacy Level: none
Swearing: Oh my G*d, d**n, b***h, b**t**d, s**t, and what the h**l.
Recommendation: 3 out of 5 stars  (see end of entry)

Fifteen-year-old Jane Arrowood is in the unlucky percentage of shark victims. The story begins with a blurry memory of her family going to the beach. Now they're in a hospital and she's missing her dominant arm. Soon, we re-enter her previously normal life of art, high-school, and cooking with new challenges of depression, hindrances, and stares from classmates.

Shark Girl, by Kelly Bingham, does not fall under my usual "speculative fiction" review genre. Actually, it's a simple fiction novel for early teens. After being contacted from a concerned parent with a list of mysterious books, I took it upon myself to check some out from the library. Shark Girl is one of them.

Initial Reaction: *****
This debut novel was interesting. As a reader, I followed the thought process of a fifteen-year-old struggling with self-identity and teenage desires. Her inner battle between clinging to her hold life and being forced into the new one-armed life did, at times, tug on my heart strings. The rest of the time, however, I found myself fighting the urge to skim.
Plot: *****
The story had very little plot until the very end when a guy-interest enters the scene and drama arises between friends. Almost the entire book is devoted to Jane's reaction to her shark attack--a decent life-changing event, but not enough to drive a story, mainly because a shark-attacked teen is not relatable for most of us. Pushing past the struggle to relate, a reader can enter into empathy with Jane, but for a younger reader I see this as difficult.

Writing: *****
Most of the novel is well-written, though in a unique style, which looks like poetry, but isn't. It's a mixture of journal entries, personal thoughts, letters, newspaper clippings, and dialogue-streams all from Jane's eyes. Her growing process through the year of upheaval is very realistic and eye-opening to those not often exposed to lives touched by tragedy or disability.  Some of the newspaper clippings didn't read as if a professional journalist wrote them.

Shark Girl was very good at addressing teenage issues with girls, like sibling and parent relationships--learning to appreciate what they do and how they see the teenage. Another is friend relationships--dealing with that one friend who's a little snotty and mean, but means well. It also delves into the first vestiges of deciding what she really wants to be when she goes to college--looking into the mixture of her talents and her interests.

A disappointment in this book is the language. I was raised in a profanity-free family and hope to raise my children in the same. Even though reading negative language doesn't really faze me and I know it's often realistic, I question its place in young teen literature. I know language is frequently used in schools and out of schools by all ages, but it's not something to which I would willingly expose my child, especially as "every-day language". God's name was often used as an exclamation along with d**n, b***h, b**t**d, s**t, and what the h**l.

Spiritual Content: *****
Jane receives a letter from a stranger sharing how God can comfort her and all she needs is to turn to Him. The letter holds an air of genuine concern and hope for Jane. Unfortunately, as with the entire novel, we don't see Jane's response to most of the letters she receives. They don't seem to impact her at all (except one) or enter her thought process again unless it's with an angry, "I didn't ask for letters." I don't know if this is something that will appear in the continuation book, Formerly Shark Girl.

Overall Recommendation:
Aside from swearing, this book was a clean read. A little slow moving, but I finished it very quickly and gained a new (albeit limited) perspective. From a Christian point of view, I think the content can be educational and a little eye-opening to a world with disabilities. The rest of the decision depends on your personal standards with swearing.

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.

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