It is unusual and unexpected to be presented with a young adult book written in verse – and even more unusual and unexpected not to be disappointed by it. Although this novel is presented as a collection of poems, it blurs the line between poetry and prose. It reads as a novel and the reader can be excused for skipping over the title of each poem to race through the story.
Crossan’s writing is accessible, honest and unpretentious, and her honesty, drawing the reader in, is the most moving element of the novel. Kasienka examines her own flaws, selfishness, and that in itself makes her a stronger, more admirable character. You are forced into her shoes and her unflinching insight into her own life and the lives of others.
The Weight of Water could be accused of lacking action or plot, possibly due to the style in which it is written. This does not however take away from the novel itself; instead the text moves with great pace, and the missing ‘action’ emphasises the bleakness, mundanity and isolation at times. In a way, the novel can be treated as snapshot scenes, where the reader fills in the gaps. By leaving the novel open to so much suggestion, while intimating at what might have happened, this makes it all the more powerful, as the story becomes reliant on the tone, and the tone resonates with emotion.
More than anything, this book is insightful and heartbreaking. With its sparse language, and at times matter-of-fact narrative, it provokes a response from the reader. The sparsity of language does not romanticise or dramatise the situation. However, when more emotive language is used, it is more poignant. The language therefore reflects the intensity of Kasienka’s feelings. Just as her language develops and becomes more sophisticated, her feelings and emotions too become more intense.
The relationship between language and water underpins the entire novel; the presence of water in its different forms becomes both cleansing and suffocating, but ultimately is a space for escapism. Kasienka has a dichotomous relationship with water: she feels a sense of belonging there but also its potential violence. It is a curious title, The Weight of Water, with Crossan’s depiction of water as both cleansing and as an escape. The title also describes it as a burden, depicting life in both an oppressive and uplifting way.
No reader can ignore the cover, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, nor the text, printed in blue. The presentation of the words sustains the representation of water, as well as its aesthetic appeal, but hopefully the characteristic Jeffers cover will give the book a wider readership than I fear it will have. The Weight of Water is a beautiful surprise of a book. Like the weight of water itself, it stirs the soul but leaves the reader with a fresh perspective of hope. It has a water-like synergy, a story of dignity, fused with a sense of buoyancy and colour.