Reviews for Dark Water

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Spring
Fifteen-year-old Pearl starts an illicit relationship with Amiel, an undocumented migrant laborer. When fire consumes southern California, Pearl abandons her family to warn Amiel of the approaching flames. Pearl ominously hints at impending disaster throughout the narrative; this foreshadowing heightens the climax's suspense. Inspired by southern California's 2007 fires, McNeal captures the desperation of both love and survival with wrenching authenticity. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #1
After fifteen-year-old Pearl's father leaves, turning her life and her mother's 'upside down,' they move into the guesthouse on her uncle Hoyt's avocado ranch. There Pearl becomes infatuated with a migrant laborer named Amiel. Her pursuit of Amiel develops into an undefined and illicit relationship, which they carefully hide -- along with the fact that Amiel is an undocumented immigrant living in a camp by the creek. When fire consumes southern California, Pearl abandons her own family to warn Amiel of the approaching flames. Terrified of encountering la migra, he refuses to evacuate, with tragic consequences. Pearl ominously hints at impending disaster throughout the narrative (her small town has 'only two roads out, something we didn't think much about before the fires began'), but this foreshadowing merely heightens the climax's suspense. The plot -- encompassing her best friend's new bad-boy boyfriend, her mother's second (secret) job, Amiel's disturbing past, and Hoyt's suspected infidelity -- is a bit busy, with some strands still loose at novel's end. But, inspired by her experiences during the southern California fires of 2007, McNeal captures the desperation of both love and survival with wrenching authenticity. KATIE BIRCHER Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 August #1

This debut solo effort after several collaborations with husband Tom McNeal (The Decoding of Lana Morris, 2007, etc.) stands out in the crowded coming-of-age field. The affecting narrative springs believably from the first-person thoughts of Pearl DeWitt as she recalls her 15th summer, when, entranced by a nearly mute, illegal Mexican migrant worker, the beautiful and gifted teenage Amiel, Pearl makes choices that lead to tragedy. Evocative language electrifies the scenes between the pair, as they develop a relationship both complicated and deepened by their limited verbal communication. Her warnings to readers of impending disaster amplify rather than diminish the impact of the misguided, wrenching decisions she makes when a raging wildfire sweeps through their rural California community. Besides her poignant relationship with Amiel, Pearl navigates her father's recent abandonment of her and her mother and her complicated relationship with her cousin Robby as he blunderingly deals with his father's apparent infidelity. Notable for well-drawn characters, an engaging plot and, especially, hauntingly beautiful language, this is an outstanding book. (Fiction. 12 & up)


Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

McNeal's first solo novel, having written several with her husband, Tom, is a story of illicit romance set against the backdrop of the wildfires that ravaged California in October 2007. McNeal often refers to the coming destruction ("Six months from this day, a fire would leap from east to west, from Rainbow to Fallbrook. Eight lanes is a lot of concrete for a fire to cross"), amplifying the sense of loss--loss of family, loss of financial stability, loss of home, loss of love--that permeates the book. Fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother are living at her Uncle Hoyt's guesthouse, after Pearl's father walked out on them. Enter Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero, an all-but-mute teenage migrant worker who Uncle Hoyt hires, and who instantly captivates Pearl. On some level, both parties are aware that their tentative romance is doomed, but it unfolds nonetheless, and as the fires sweep through, it turns to tragedy. Through the cross-cultural romance feels familiar, McNeal writes with a superior ear for dialogue and eye for detail, particularly in describing the verdant Californian wilds before they're reduced to ash. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 October

Gr 8 Up--The catastrophic wildfires that ravaged Southern California in 2007 serve as the backdrop for this compelling story of a forbidden romance with tragic consequences. In the inland farming community of Fallbrook, 15-year-old Pearl tells her story through a leisurely voice. She deals with her parents' divorce; her cousin's anger at his father's suspected adultery; and, most significantly, her undeniable attraction to the alluring undocumented Mexican migrant worker Amiel, whose damaged vocal chords limit his speech but not his communication. Disaster is referred to throughout the narrative, filling readers with a sense of foreboding as Pearl's persistence overcomes Amiel's trepidation and the two draw together in an intense secret affair. All of this leads to a heart-pounding final act when the wildfire breaks out and Pearl must choose between family and romance, safety and uncertainty. The ramifications of the ill-fated decisions made by both Pearl and Amiel will surely spark strong discussion among readers. Both the plot and setting are grounded in rich, realistic detail; the author's love for the town of Fallbrook shines vividly through lyrical descriptions of avocado groves and orange blossoms. While Amiel remains a somewhat mysterious figure, Pearl's relationships with her family and friends are fully realized through her nostalgic recollections of simpler times. Drawn in by the appeal of clandestine love and looming disaster, teens will also be rewarded with much thought-provoking substance in this novel's complex characters and hauntingly ambiguous ending.--Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

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VOYA Reviews 2010 December
Pearl tells the story of her fifteenth summer. She is living with her mother in the guest house of her uncle's avocado ranch in Fallbrook, California. Her father has left them, and as her mother says, "The wolf is at the door." On a trip into Fallbrook, Pearl's attention is caught by an apparently mute young man who is looking for seasonal migrant work. She convinces her uncle to hire him. Pearl and Amiel's ensuing friendship is complicated by their limited verbal communication, as well as his illegal status. Her interest in the young worker is kept from her mother, her cousin Robby, and her best friend. Throughout Pearl's description of her summer there is a feeling of impending disaster. When the wildfires start and Pearl makes misplaced and life-changing decisions, the result is not a total surprise The language is evocative. McNeal's description of Fallbrook's streets looking as though they were created by an Etch-A-Sketch allows the reader to clearly picture the layout of the city. The plot is engaging, and the characters are well developed. The reader comes to know a bit of the life of the illegal migrant worker and follow the coming of age of Pearl and her cousin Robby. This is a step above the usual coming-of-age novel.--Susan Allen $19.99 PLB. ISBN 978-0-375-94973-9. 4Q 3P S Copyright 2010 Voya Reviews.