Those of you who have either read or heard about SWIM, my paranormal YA book, know that I have no small obsession with the ocean. It was surprisingly and perhaps frighteningly easy to imagine myself in a world where water was strength and power, and land a lovely and mysterious danger. Makes perfect sense for a Mer.
But RAW BLUE, by Kirsty Eagar somehow manages to capture that intensity and need for the ocean that I hoped to convey. The big difference? RAW BLUE is a stark, sometimes painful, contemporary novel where the character who is so connected to the sea has no magical ability to survive there, though she does have every reason to mistrust the dangers on land.
The book takes place deep in the surf culture of Sydney, and one of Eagar’s talents is to bring to life a place that has no cultural resonance to me, a wayward American. After all, we often expect a basic level of understanding from our readers – if we set a book in Las Vegas or Paris we assume they will bring their ideas and stereotypes. But the surf culture in RAW BLUE is both unique to the place and wonderfully universal; when she describes the crows, the old guys who hang out on their boards jabbering to each other every morning, I could picture them perfectly. And her endless and varied portraits of the ocean were magnificent.
The characters are as vividly drawn as the setting. Carly, the MC, is closed and defensive, which could have been a stumbling block for readers to get to know her. But Eagar manages to do a wonderful job of showing us who Carly is slowly and deftly, from her work in the kitchen where she goes the extra mile despite it being a dead-end job, to her dispassionate noticing of her colleague who is starving herself…we get a picture of Carly loud and clear. Supporting characters like her Dutch neighbor Hannah and Danny, the young surfer who befriends her despite her resistance, are also interesting, nuanced, and likeable. And the love interest is one of the most unexpectedly swoonworthy ones I could imagine.
Even while Eagar does a wonderful job of showing us who Carly is, and what her life is like, she doesn’t reveal one of the largest mysteries. Why. Why did she drop out of University? Why is she so detached? Why does she hang onto surfing like it’s the only drug that will dull her pain? While I don’t want to spoil the plot, I will say this is an issue book, and a good one. One where the issue in question is a complex piece of a complex whole, rather than a shrill battle cry.
But really, I come back to my first point. This book is a wonderful love story between a girl and the sea. I wish it were available here, I really do. But maybe it can be requested a libraries or bookstores. Certainly it’s worth seeking this one out.
ETA: Angie (referenced below), just told me about a site that ships books from Australia to the US for free. The site is www.fishpondworld.com and I will definitely be using it to order Eagar’s next book.
P.S. I owe my knowledge of this book to Angie from my supersekrit online writing bat cave, where we have secret handshakes and everything. (Okay, not handshakes, but the rest is true). Anyway, she was wonderful enough to hear me babble about SWIM and think of this book. Thanks Angie!!