Underwater, by Debbie Levy, was my 11th and final book for the 48 hour book challenge. I will admit to having selected it in part because I only had an hour and 50 minutes left, and it was shorter than many of the other choices. But I've also been enticed for quite some time by the beauty of the cover.
Underwater is the story of a few months in the life of 12-year-old Gabe Livingston. Gabe is obsessed with all things underwater - playing a diving game on the computer, swimming, and setting up an aquarium. In the real world, however, Gabe has a bit more of a hard time. Most people get on his nerves, and he over-reacts, and gets in trouble, when a manipulative bully from school insults him. He doesn't seem to recognize when other kids are reaching out to him - he always seems to expect a punch. But he dreams big dreams - he wants to be the next Jacques Cousteau, and he he has no interest in lesser pursuits, like street soccer.
Gabe worries about, and is embarrassed by, his two brothers. His older brother Jake has ADHD and dyslexia. Jake is a gifted artist, but struggles in school, and struggles in most situations because he gets bored so easily. Six-year-old Maxie, on the other hand, is a bundle of joy, completely unable to stop laughing. He's also a tough kid, a first grader who holds his own playing soccer with the sixth graders, the kind of kid that parents don't worry about so much, because he seems indestructible. Maxie has moxie, in other words. But Gabe worries that Maxie is crazy, and that Jake's medications make him seem crazy. And he worries about his own difficulties relating to other people. A classic coming-of-age title, Underwater is about Gabe's struggle to understand himself, recognize his own strengths, and, eventually, learn to let other people in.
The characterization in Underwater is quite good - I like that none of the three brothers is perfect, though each has his own strengths. For example, here's Gabe, watching Jake try to play soccer:
"Ha, I think, looking at Jake trying to look like a team player, we'll see how long this lasts. Jake and team sports don't go together. There's too much downtime for him, even in the most action-packed game. I watch as he crouches with his hands on his thighs, as the other kids do, and as he dances up and back, right and left--again, following the ball around the field as the other kids do. But as the ball moves down the street in the control of the other players, Jake loses interest. As I knew he would. As he always does. Not that I can blame him. I find soccer too boring for words, and definitely too boring to play." (Page 32)
I think this book will be a good match for kids who have trouble fitting in, or who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities to contend with. There are also some nice details about scuba diving, and setting up an aquarium, making this a must-read for kids, especially boys, fascinated by those things. Underwater is a quick, enjoyable read. Even though it's more character-driven than plot-driven, I think that it would be worth trying out on middle-grade reluctant readers, who might see themselves in Gabe (or Jake, or Maxie, for that matter).
Publisher: Darby Creek Publishing
Publication Date: July 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the author
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.