One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn – REVIEW
It’s 1997 and seventeen-year-old Sam is mourning the sudden loss of his mum.
Sam has always had things going on in his head that no one else understands, even his mum. And now she’s dead, it’s worse than ever.
With nothing but his skateboard and a few belongings in a garbage bag, Sam goes to live with the strangers his mum cut ties with seven years ago: Aunty Lorraine and his cousins Shane and Minty.
Despite the suspicion and hostility emanating from their fibro shack, Sam reverts to his childhood habit of following Minty around and is soon surfing with Minty to cut through the static fuzz in his head. But as the days slowly meld into one another, and ghosts from the past reappear, Sam has to make the ultimate decision … will he sink or will he swim?
“He had nowhere to direct the anger, the fear, the rage. He was angry at her for dying.”
I recently received a copy of this book from Raven Books in exchange for an honest review. I hadn’t heard of the author before reading this but Claire Zorn is an award-winning Australian writer, and it’s easy to see why after finishing this astonishing book. Set in Australia in 1997, the story follows grieving seventeen-year-old Sam after the sudden death of his mother and his reluctant move to live with his aunt and cousins. I haven’t read many contemporary Australian books but this one is permeated with slang, especially surfing terms. It’s easy to understand though as the context helps a lot, and I found the informal style very engaging.
“The ocean was like a parellel dimension, with its own laws of gravity, its own time; it felt like nothing that mattered on land mattered in the water, and vice versa.”
Sam’s larger-than-life cousin Minty is an extremely talented surfer who takes Sam under his wing and ultimately helps him heal. Minty was probably my favourite character as he was just so enthusiastic and kind. The surfing culture has an undercurrent of sexism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, racism, and homophobia, which the author challenges via female surfer Ruby and, to some extent, Sam. In such an inhospitable culture, Sam’s mental health issues are unwelcome due to a distinct lack of awareness and a twisted perception of weakness. It was refreshing to see Sam understand through music that vulnerability can be power. The puerile surfing culture is contrasted with the purity and restorative nature of the ocean, and the respect surfers have for the water.
“It was like dancing – fighting; it was intimate, you were in tune with another human. It was sort of beautiful, like that.”
The author explores the complex relationships between families in a nuanced way and the underlying anger and frustration between the adults especially are skilfully portrayed. The engaging writing style brings the story to vivid life and I found myself unable to put the book down as I was swept away by the narrative and fleshed-out characters. The harrowing effects of grief and abandonment experienced by Sam are palpable at times but the ultimately hopeful ending is one of acceptance and love. I would definitely recommend this YA contemporary and look forward to reading more by this author.