Water Seekers by Michelle Rode
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (159 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Age Recommendation: 14+
Reviewed by Astilbe
Nuclear devastation is the past. The need for water is the present. Can they survive to find a future?
I watch the sun coming up on my right as I walk. We’ve only got about three hours now before it gets too hot and we have to stop. We’ve learned not to leave it too long, learned not to wait until the last minute to put up our tents and hide within their dubious shelter. The sun will kill you if you let it.
Better to lose daylight, lose marching time, than to get stuck in the full sun. Of course it’s not much better in the middle of the night either. We have to stop and get set up before it gets too cold. The night will kill you if you let it.
Zara talks about what it was like before — how their days used to be based on being up when the sun was up and sleeping during the night when it was dark. It’s just another one of the differences between then and now. She’s the oldest of us, she tells us about the differences, about how they used to do stuff. A lot of it is really crazy, but I guess that’s natural. I guess that’s why it happened.
Imagine a world in which most adults die young from radiation poisoning, disease or accidents. What kind of society would children and teenagers create in their absence?
The scenes in this book shift between what happens to Zara as a little girl just after the nuclear bombs go off and a quest she participates in many years later to find the Great Lakes. The narrator for this quest is an unnamed seventeen-year-old who has known Zara for years and considers her one of the Old Ones. That is, Zara is one of the few people left who remembers what life was like before the bombs.
At first I found the transitions between scenes to be a little jarring but they quickly grew on me. It was interesting to see the similarities between Zara’s childhood and what happens to similarly-aged kids and teenagers on the quest. There are certain cultural differences between the two time periods that I will discuss a little later on in this review but many of their experiences remain the same. More than anything these kids want to survive in an environment in which food and water are hard to come by on a regular basis.
It was frustrating to know so little about the narrator. Because she was orphaned or abandoned at such a young age we know nothing about the people who brought her into the world. While many children would end up alone in a world ravaged by nuclear war I wanted to know more about how she survived in such a harsh environment without any consistent adult guidance. A three or four-year-old child does not have enough life experience to keep herself safe. This is even more true in a society in which food and water are scarce, there is no medical care and even sand can kill you. Surely someone must have looked after this little girl in for at least a few years and the story would have been richer had we learned something about the person or people who kept her alive.
With that being said I was impressed with the character development of the unnamed narrator. Her early abandonment clearly had an affect on her ability to bond with or trust other people and the author’s descriptions of a young woman struggling with what sounds like a mild attachment disorder were eerily accurate. As much as she longs to love and be loved the narrator has trouble allowing anyone to get too close to her. She’s been hurt so many times before that she assumes anyone she loves will either abandon her or die. Of course a deep-seated fear like this cannot be vanquished in 159 pages but it was rewarding to see her ever so slowly begin to bond with Zara in particular. Despite her gruff demeanor the narrator is at heart a lonely teenager and while I don’t ever see her becoming a warm, cuddly soul I can imagine a future for her in which she eventually learns to trust a small group of adopted family members. If Ms. Rode ever chooses to continue this story I would be quite interested to see how this transformation takes place and how the narrator’s name or original identity may influence this change .
While sex was only mentioned in passing in this book the younger characters are comfortable engaging in it with almost any willing partner. Non-monogamous relationships are the norm and no one who grew up during or was born after the nuclear attack is concerned with what happens in someone else’s tent as long as it’s consensual. I found this acceptance of a wide variety of sexual orientations and relationship styles to be incredibly refreshing but I recognize that some parents may prefer more traditional gender and sexual roles for younger readers even if nothing was described in explicit detail. If this is not an issue for you family, though, Water Seekers is otherwise completely appropriate for the 12+ crowd.
Water Seekers creates a world that is as harsh as it is beautiful. I’d recommend this book for anyone in the mood for a post-apocalyptic story that assumes that humans are naturally good and would go out of their way to look after the young and weak in a worst case scenario.