On the tide of her mother’s hopes, carrying nothing more than the pieces of her family and her belongings in a laundry bag, Kasienka is washed up in Britain searching for the father that left them so abruptly when he left their home in Poland with no more than a brief note and much less than a suitable explanation. So begins this beautifully recounted tale of a young girl coming of age in a strange country amongst the shattered pieces of the family life she once knew.
The Weight of Water is an unusual book. Told entirely in verse, there is the expectation that it will read like a series of poems or an exercise in literary styling. Instead, Crossan seamlessly crafts a story where Kasienka and the cast of supporting characters come alive from the outset, the verse making access to the characters more immediate and direct than a prose novel. Within a page or two, the verse disappears, replaced by Kasienka’s voice as she tells of the painful journey she takes to become accepted in her new home and to accept her family with all their limitations.
The Weight of Water is a book of differences. It is an immigrant’s perspective of their adopted land and of the myriad of people who share it with them. However, it is also a book of similarities, as Kasienka slowly understands that beneath the diversity, the common desire for acceptance binds even enemies tightly. It is a story of the discomfort of adolescence, one that transcends international boundaries, and it is here that Crossan’s empathy for her protagonist stands out in a perfect portrait of the painful journey Kasienka makes to unearth herself from beneath the layers of expectation placed on her. It is a story of loss, not just of her native land but of the childhood image she has of her parents as she discovers they are flawed and yet both less and more than the people she though them to be. Ultimately, it is a story of freedom though, which for Kasienka comes in the waters of the local pool as she finds her grace and strength in the furrows she cleaves as she swims. The water is not cleansing but nourishing, and as Kasienka carves the water with a singular purpose, we are left with a sense that a stronger girl will emerge with a sense of purpose as she carves a place for herself in the complicated world of adulthood.
This was an innovative book and it is wonderful to see a young adult novel that is unafraid of experimenting with textual form. While Crossan does not always get the ‘Polishness’ of Kasienka and her family quite right, with the occasional jarring note that would only really be noticeable to someone who has had close contact with Poles, it is vastly out-weighed by her ability to realistically convey the acute agony of adolescence and a child’s view of the pain of a family break-up. It is a daring but quiet novel, in the best sense of the word and comes highly recommended.