________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2000

cover Dream Water.

Karen Rivers.
Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 1999.
186 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-162-9.

Subject Headings:
Killer whale-Juvenile fiction.
Tragedy-Juvenile fiction.
Accidents-Psychological aspects-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

*** /4

The two friends stumble down the stairs, the fresh fall air slapping them partway into sobriety. They walk in silence for awhile, shoving and jostling, passing by rows of old houses and a tumbledown graveyard. On the other side of the graveyard is Dallas Road, winding its way along the waterfront of Victoria. The city has spent a lot of time and money building up the beach on the water side of Dallas Road, which is always getting washed away by winter storms. Once you cross the road, you can walk for miles along the beach with the traffic humming along at intervals right above you. They hang out there a lot in the summer and have fires and beach parties that are regularly shut down by the police. They've been going there since they were little kids, only the beach didn't go all the way along. They used to have to walk along the wall for part of the way. Everything changes, Holden thinks grumpily to himself. Everything gets messed with.
During a field trip to the Victoria Seaquarium, two elementary school students witness a tragic accident when a trainer falls into the killer whale pool and is drowned by the whales. Fast forward to the students' final year in high school. Though their lives have taken different paths, Cassie and Holden, now 17, are still haunted by the tragedy. Cassie is studying ballet while she attends a boarding school in Vancouver. Her psychiatrist parents, so caught up with their busy practices and caring for Cassie's learning disabled younger brother, pay little attention to Cassie and seem unfeeling and distant, barely acknowledging Cassie's obvious talent in dance. Frequent nightmares of the long-ago accident plague Cassie, and she wonders why her "shrink" parents haven't been able to help her to overcome the trauma. Meanwhile, Holden, still living in Victoria with his dad, has problems of his own. Holden's marks are abysmal; his mother, a drug addict who abandoned the family many years ago, is returning home to die; and Holden, himself, is addicted to alcohol. Holden's memories of the accident at the Seaquarium manifest themselves in his oil paintings - murky, disturbing images on canvas - of orca whales. He also harbors a secret crush on Cassie, an obvious case of unrequited love. Playing a subordinate role in the story is Mark Mitchell, a biology teacher at Cassie's school. Mitchell, a former whale trainer turned animal rights activist, tries to convince his students that keeping animals in captivity is fundamentally wrong. When he persuades his class to hand out brochures protesting the whale show at the Seaquarium, Cassie reluctantly goes along. Once there, she breaks down and tearfully tells the story of the accident which is ingrained in her memory forever.

Rivers, writing in the present tense and using teens' language, tells the story honestly, with a powerful simplicity. (In fact, her use of short sentences and fairly simple vocabulary would appeal to reluctant readers.) Readers will identify with Cassie and Holden as they struggle to deal, not only with their unhappy home situations, but also with the lingering effects of the orca accident. It is difficult to say whether or not the teens' lives would have been very different had they not witnessed the tragedy as there are just too many variables: in Cassie's case, unsupportive parents who favour their son over their daughter; and, in Holden's case, his mother's addiction and her abandonment of the family. Those situations alone would be enough to cause major life problems. If there is a minor flaw in this novel, it is that the theme of combating cruelty to animals is rather weak. Mark Mitchell's character plays such a small part, and his "save the whales" activism happens too infrequently for readers to be spurred on to action. Otherwise, a compelling book for older teens.


Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.


Review by Betsy Fraser.

*** /4

Cassie cries and cries, until she is dry. She sits on the wood floor in a patch of sun and glowers out the window. She thinks about the baby whale. God damn him, she thinks. Now she has to do something. She sits on the floor for a long time, running her fingers up and down the seams between the boards. Sometimes she looks up at the door, relieved to see he isn't there, looking at her and waiting for her to do something.

Like she could have done something then. Like she could have reached into the pool and pulled the girl out.

She squints into the mirror, trying to see the little girl she once was. She can't see anything but her teenaged self staring back. Nothing helps her, she thinks furiously. Only dancing. It's her only escape.

On a bright cold day in February, a group of elementary school children are visiting the Seaquarium. Having watched the whale show from the stands, they are now watching from the dry tunnels underneath the aquarium. When the trainer falls into the water, the audience is not sure if it is a part of the show. They are sure when the other trainers try to distract the whales and help the fallen girl and are horrified when the whales drag the trainer under the water. The frantic teacher tries to round up the class, but three children see the whole ordeal. These children will deal with what they have seen in very different ways: Matt did not have any lasting repercussions from the incident; Cassie throws herself into dancing, though she dreams of the whales every night; Holden becomes an alcoholic and can no longer paint anything but murky underwater scenes. Dream Water follows Holden and Cassie through a traumatic year until they can finally resolve some of their problems and move forward with their lives.

Dream Water is based on a tragic event that actually happened at the Victoria Aquarium. The book presents several different ways of dealing with trauma. Cassie denies any problems exist while Holden acts out his frustrations. One of Cassie's teachers becomes an anti-captivity activist. None of these is a perfect solution. Only by working together and acknowledging their problems are the characters in this book able to come to any sort of resolution. The author points out that tragedies like the one that is the background for this novel are still taking place but does not take an overt stand on the issue. Readers are allowed to make up their own minds about what is right and wrong with captivity and aquariums. This book would be a good basis for a discussion on activism, endangered animals and animals in captivity.


Betsy Fraser is a librarian with Calgary Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364