Daily Archives: April 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Shark Girl

I am sitting here all grumpy faced because after the world’s longest day ever I was excited to be participating in my first readergirlz forum chat with the readergirlz gang and Kelly Bingham, author of Shark Girl. It would seem, however, that the gremlins of MySpace are conspiring against me and will not let me join the cool crowd just because I haven’t been a member for 7 days. Phooey. Just wait for the next forum. It’s going to be Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. I’m already ready.

I will now channel the negative joo joo towards a positive end, and tell each and every one of you why Bingham’s book is worth reading.

This being a Poetry Friday post, obviously we’re talking verse novel here. It’s the story of Jane Arrowood, a fifteen-year old who survives a shark attack that results in the amputation of her right arm. The novel follows Jane into and beyond her grief, exploring how an ordinary girl finds a way to know herself better after experiencing a traumatic loss. This story shows what can happen after one nightmarish, life-altering moment.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, verse novels aren’t always my thing. When they work, they really work, but a lot of the time, it just feels to me that the author is disguising prose as poetry by chopping it up with some artsy line breaks and slapping on a few titles. Not so Kelly Bingham’s writing. At no point did I feel that the poems in this book were actually little slices of prose pretending to be poetry. This is the real deal, and so you should read it.

First off, you’ll really like Jane Arrowood. She’s an authentic teenage girl. She’s got a head on her shoulders. She’s wonderfully ordinary (aside from having been attacked by a shark, I suppose). But Jane has fantastic and surprising inner strength, even though she doesn’t realize this for a while. You’ll root for her because what she really wants is to be able to do the normal stuff she loved doing before her accident- her drawing, cooking for her family, styling her own hair. I admired the fact that this kid valued life’s small things.

Shark Girl begs readers to consider, “What would I do?” in this kind of situation. It takes a hard look at the media and how it sensationalizes terrible events and tries to claim survivors to boost ratings and make headlines. It makes you think about how even though these days, we’re able to have access to so many victims’ stories, getting inside their lives through TV and the internet, we’re not really any closer to that person’s thinking or point of view. So much is private and secret and complicated. 

I loved the last stanzas of the final poem in the book. They reveal the greatest lesson Jane internalizes through her experience: rather than fear the terrible things that may happen in the future and feel burdened or even paralyzed by uncertainty, we can try to see that not knowing is a kind of freedom, and in the end, that’s all we have:

Life is what it is,
at any second.
A snapshot.
Nothing more.

Maybe

the trick is learning
to live in the moment
celebrating our
freedom;

the freedom

of not knowing.

For a desperate-to-control-as-much-as-possible perfectionist like myself, I’m thinking that the lines, “life is what it is / at any second,” should be my new motto. Shark Girl is a rich book, with a lot of life lessons to offer readers, but never in a preachy, overt way. It’s about forgiveness and acceptance and hope and sheer determination to go after the life you think you want even when you face obstacles. Heck, if Tim Wynne-Jones says that Bingham writes “with compassion, candor and riveting clarity,” I think you’ve gotta go get the book. A compelling, sensitive, and ultimately triumphant story.

(Check out the recent roundtable discussion on Shark Girl with Little Willow, Lorie Ann Grover and of course, Miss Erin).