This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Michigan, 1985. The drowning of a teenage girl causes ripples in the small town of Kettle Lake, though for most the waters settle quickly.
‘For sixteen-year-old Joanne Kennedy, however, the tragedy dredges up untold secrets and causes her mother to drift farther from reality and her family.
‘When troubled newcomer Lucinda arrives in town, she offers Joanne a chance of real friendship, and together the teenagers push against the boundaries of family, self-image, and their sexuality during the tension of a long, stifling summer.
‘But the undercurrents of past harms continuously threaten to drag Joanne and those around her under…’
In The Polite Act of Drowning, by Charleen Hurtubise, we follow teenager Joanne Kennedy over the course of one formative summer in Kettle Lake, Michigan, where she lives with her parents, older sister Hare, and younger brother Sammy, with other relatives close by.
The summer begins with a teenage girl from another town drowning in the nearby Great Lake, which seems to kick-start a number of rites of passage for Joanne: making a new friend who threatens to lead her astray; exploring her sexuality; discovering family secrets and that her parents are complicated humans with emotional lives of their own; and finding alternative adults who can guide her.
Gawky, under-confident, and accustomed to being in the shadow of her popular and conventionally pretty older sister, will Joanne sink amidst all these churning currents, or emerge with a stronger sense of who she is and what makes her unique?
I found The Polite Act of Drowning absorbing and intoxicating, reading it all in about 24 hours as I dived back into it whenever I got the chance.
Hurtubise’s descriptions of the wetlands of Michigan are so detailed and beautiful, it really was like being transported there. The progressive revelation of the tragic past of Joanne’s mum, and the build-up to a comparable event at the climax of the story, also kept me intrigued and turning the pages.
The author faithfully captures what it’s like to be an ugly ducking of a teenager, surrounded by swans who look upon you with disdain. I could totally empathise with Joanne’s solitary summer existence, as well as the hopes raised in her by the possibility of friendship with Lucinda, a troubled girl fostered by a family friend.
Lucinda is also realistically drawn as a young woman who’s been through some things and learned to present herself as battle-hardened, indifferent, and older than she really is, yet is highly damaged, as well as vulnerable, due to her tender age and the lack of love in her life to date.
It was gratifying to watch Joanne find ways to deal with what was going on around her, and even bloom. Like Min in Salt & Skin, by Eliza Henry-Jones, swimming helps her cope with her problems, and she’s hella good at it. Both books have made me wish I was less hopeless at swimming myself!
I additionally felt moved by Joanne’s interactions with sympathetic adults, particularly Marylou – a particularly warm-hearted character I couldn’t get enough of – and, later on, Aunt Rita.
The Polite Act of Drowning is an immersive, heady, and satisfying coming-of-age novel.