From debut author Ellen McGinty comes a heartbreaking tale of discovery and loss, inspired by the events of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Seventeen-year-old Tora Hayashi has always been irresistibly drawn to the ocean, lulled by the dream of becoming a pearl diver like her free-spirited, adventurous mother. But when their family moves to Tokyo, Tora’s beloved Okaasan becomes increasingly withdrawn, opening up an impassable chasm between mother and daughter.
Then Tora’s mother vanishes in the middle of the night, taking only her most precious possession: a pearl-white diving suit, locked away when they left Miyako. Believing that Okaasan may have returned to the sea, Tora persuades her best friend, Sakura, to accompany her back to their coastal hometown under the guise of a spring break trip. There, Tora begins to unravel a complicated web of painful secrets about her mother’s past…and discovers the real reason for the distance between her and Okaasan.
As Tora struggles to regain her balance, the entire coastline is hit by a brutal earthquake. With buildings collapsing and tsunami sirens wailing, Tora and a group of refugees race against a towering wall of water to reach high ground. But when time runs out, it’ll take every ounce of strength she has to survive in a world where the ocean she loves is now bent on destroying her.
This is the first fictional book I’ve read that hasn’t landed in the “fantasy” genre in a long time, but I couldn’t pass up this Japanese, real-events inspired YA. Especially since the author actually lives in Japan, giving it a little more authenticity in my opinion (her Instagram account is 100% worth following if you love Japanese culture: @mcgintytokyo).
The Water Child is a hard look, really only a glimpse, into what life was like during, and immediately after, the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. It gives a peek into the heartache that the people felt, the fear they experienced, the hope they clung to, and the natural way that people band together during times of tragedy. But even though this book is set during the tsunami, surviving this natural disaster is not the primary plot of the book; it’s the relationship between Tora and her mother. And honestly, it’s not even Tora and her mother specifically, as much as it seems to be an overarching theme of illustrating through many characters “a mother’s love (and fears) for her lost children”.
This book was difficult for me to read as it deals with the topics of miscarriage, abortion, and stillborn children from the point of view of mothers– especially since the loss of my daughter was only months ago–but I couldn’t stop reading. Being able to relate to the mothers in this book by understanding the value that Mizukos (lost children memorials) must hold for them, it almost felt like a hug. There were many lines in this book that so perfectly described exactly what I haven’t been able to put into words during my recovery and it was comforting to know that I’m not alone in the pain I’ve felt, the thoughts that plague me, and the fears that hide in the shadows of my mind. This book is difficult to read if you’re a mother to a lost child, but it’s beautiful nonetheless, and it comforted me in a way that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
All of that being said, I really loved this book and had to fight myself to put it down and take breaks from it. However, I did find myself confused in places because I missed scene-transitions. This actually happened a lot during the tsunami part of the story, where I really had a hard time following what was happening–other than the fact that a tsunami had hit. I felt disoriented in the story, which is ironic since I’m sure everyone was disoriented during the tsunami, but I feel as if I missed the weight of the situation because I spent so much time re-reading in attempt to get my bearings in the story. That’s the only reason that this book has received a 4 star rating instead of 5. I also think a lot of my “world disaster” story expectations are very high on the intensity side of things (they are some of my favorite movies) and I had to remind myself that this one is YA, so it’s probably good that it hit lower on the adrenaline spectrum for me.