Review of ‘One Would Think the Deep’
Claire Zorn can do no literary wrong. ‘One Would Think the Deep’ is deeply affecting and is one my absolute must-read YA novels. I’ve already passed it on to my twenty-something year old brother who is a mad keen surfer and co founder of Maven Surf with Clayton Nienaber – and credit to Clayton for the photos of my brother surfing in this post! I rarely re-read a book, but ‘One Would Think the Deep’ will be on my re-read list for many years to come, just as is the playlist for the book is on repeat in my car – I have reprinted it below. I’ve asked the lovely Trish to review this novel for me as novels of this calibre need Trish on review duty. And before I hand over to Ms Trish, if you’ve not yet read Zorn’s ‘The Protected’, click, read and buy here…tis also astonishing.
To purchase ‘One Would Think the Deep’ click on title links or cover images.
‘One Would Think the Deep’ is Claire Zorn’s third novel. It will do as well as the first two – that is to say – very well. She cements herself here as the grief counsellor of Young Adult writing. The grief that main character Sam faces is not 6 months ago, or a year (like ‘The Protected’), or even five. Sam’s mum literally collapses in his arms within the first two chapters. All his raw emotions, his rage, his shock, his inability to process, is on display in high definition. It’s achingly sad.
Zorn has chosen to set her novel in 1997. A funny year. I know in 2016, we feel like we’re losing many celebrities, but in 1997 we also lost some pretty special people. And there was no Internet, no common use of mobile phones, and CDs were in their prime. Sam’s love of the Beastie Boys and Jeff Buckley shows the two sides of his personality – the skater, the tough boy, full of rage just barely under control, and the sensitive clever young man, interested in meteorology and very close to his mother. What happens to a kid like that when the one true thing in his life leaves?
Sam’s sea-change to a small town of Archer Point, two hours from Sydney comes with strong feelings – His mother’s sister, Lorraine, long estranged from Sam and his mum, treats him civilly, but she herself grieves. Her younger son, Minty, once Sam’s best friends acts like they’ve never been apart, and immediately teaches Sam to surf. Shane is Minty’s older brother – cruel and standoffish. Sam only remembers a bully. He moves into their small fibro house, numb, angry and aimless.
Zorn’s greatest skill is her ability to create genuine, original characters, who feel fully developed and real. Her descriptions of Minty surfing, Sam skateboarding, and Gretchen swimming and running are all clear and distinct. We also meet Ruby, an Aboriginal girl who has a complex relationship with Minty. A better surfer, she prefers to attend school, and dreams of making something of herself with a university degree. This clashes with Minty’s dreams – he wants to find the biggest waves he can, and make the world fly. Meanwhile Sam descends into a spiralling cycle of smoking pot, getting drunk, surfing and listening to music. Zorn uses the ocean as a way to reflect Sam’s darkest moments and most glorious triumphs. The power of nature to beat us into submission, to make us accept that we cannot control the elements has meaning for Sam. That his mum is taken away, so unfairly breaks him, and it takes a long time for him fight back.
It’s an astonishing tour-de -force. The family dramas involving Nan and the reasons the family fell apart are revealed slowly. Minty has to face the pressures of trying to make it onto the professional surfing tour. Sam falls for Gretchen, but he also falls into making mistakes, his impulses sometimes getting the better of him. It’s a book that deals with belonging and identity, and trauma and hope, and I found it satisfying and layered. As a novel, it’s brash, it’s real, and it’s alive. As an exploration of grief, it’s harrowing and heart-breaking. As a character study, Sam is a wonder – a mixture of vulnerability and sensitivity, combined with rage, and physical and psychological displacement.
There are so many aspects to the story, it really is one to savour and linger over.
For more brilliant Australian YA writing see here #loveozya.