The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
The Weight of Water tells the story of twelve year old Kasienka and her mother as they depart their native Poland, with only a suitcase and a laundry bag containing their possessions, to make a new life for themselves in England. Kasienka’s father left them two years previously and his devastated wife has decided to follow him to England in an effort to find him. The story is told by Kasienka as she struggles to cope with life in a strange country, living in one room with her mother and being bullied by girls at her new school.
In all honesty if I had not decided to try to read all the books on the Carnegie shortlist this is probably not a book I would have picked up. In addition to the subject matter, which sounded a little depressing, the story is also told in verse so I was initially sceptical and didn’t expect to enjoy this at all. How wrong I was, for this book is a little gem. Kasienka is a very engaging character and the writing style is delightful, moving the story along quickly and making it very easy to read. I think that the poetry and spareness of the text highlights the poignancy of Kasienka’s plight without ever becoming over sentimental. At times this reads almost like a personal diary and although told entirely by Kasienka, with her inner thoughts driving the story rather than dialogue, I felt great sympathy for her mother too. Somehow the author also manages to convey the kindness of the neighbour, Kanora, and their growing friendship with him.
This book deals with some weighty issues; growing up, first love, absent parents and immigration but principally it highlights how it feels to be “different” in any way. The sense of isolation that Kasienka feels is brilliantly described and the cruelty of the other girls to her and the thoughtlessness of some adults is well written and thought provoking. I think that this would make a terrific book for use in the classroom as it would both stimulate important discussion and introduce pupils to a different writing style. Maybe a much better lesson in the benefits of poetry than learning by rote!
I think it is is interesting that more than one title on the Carnegie shortlist deals with the topic of being alienated or somehow different from others around you. "Wonder", another book that I whole-hearedly recommend, is about a child with a facial disfigurement and in "Maggot Moon", which I hope to read soon, the central character is dyslexic. One of the very important things about children’s books, apart of course from the enjoyment, is that they allow the reader to experience the world from another’s point of view and in doing so they may develop some empathy with people very different from themselves. "The Weight of Water" will achieve this excellently I think as it conveys extremely well the sense of alienation felt by a stranger in another country.
As the story progresses Kasienka develops an inner strength that is impressive and I found myself willing her on. This is not a depressing story, it is an uplifting one. Without giving away too much of the plot the way in which Kasienka deals with and overcomes her difficulties is heartening. It would also be an empowering book for teenagers coping with bullying to read.