The whole thing feels like a prank at first, like something they planned – a joke with a punch line. Maybe, before I know it, one of the girls will tell me it’s really a joke and then they get me out of here.
But then again, maybe not.
I have a bad, bad feeling about this. I try not to panic. The first thing everyone says to do in emergencies – earthquakes or house fires of if, say, you fall down an abandoned well out in the wasteland behind town – is to stay calm.
“Stay calm, Kammie” I tell myself. My voice echoes up the dusty shaft to where the girls are, safe on high ground. I kind of think of them as The Girls, with capital letters like that. I think that’s how they think of themselves.
How pretty is this cover?!
Karen River’s novel is truly inspiring. It’s not something I would immediately have chosen to pick up but the cover definitely intrigued me and the plot even more so (quick thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this). The way I took to describing it to my friends at university was as a 127 hours-esque plot for children. I wouldn’t say this is a kids book exactly, it definitely reads very well for someone my age and it definitely would relate to someone I think much older. River’s writing style is incredibly engaging and therefore the story really resonates with whomever might choose to pick it up.
The plot follows Kammie who has moved to Texas and is hoping to make new friends. At the beginning of the novel we aren’t really sure why she’s moved but this is later unfurled in an almost heart wrenching way. Kammie tries to make friends with The Girls, the popular group of Mandy, Kandy and Sandy, and they say that of course she can join, if she passes an initiation, one act of which is the reason Kammie ends up in an abandoned well.
I really like our narrator Kammie. She’s 11 and moved to a new school and I think that River’s really captured that 11 year old mindset and it really made me think about how when I joined a new school and had to make new friends and it was a really relatable situation that she put our main character in which made us really care about her right from the start. I like how River’s jumps between Kammie’s understanding of her situation and the rational, with the irrational and the imaginative speculative part of the 11 year old mind. It really captures the sort of wondrousness of being a child whilst also being incredibly claustrophobic.
The setting is pretty much what it says on the tin. Kammie is stuck in a well. She’s fallen into a well and throughout the novel she does slide further and further down into the well and the light above her becomes smaller and smaller. This almost matches her level of hope that she may be rescued. It can also be seen as almost an extended metaphor as, whilst Kammie slides further down, we learn deeper things about her as a character. We learn about why she’s moved to Texas, her relationships with her parents and her brother, and then her relationship with herself and what she thinks of herself. There is a wonderful exploration with this novel about how parents actions can affect a child. It’s not too psychologically charged. In fact it’s quite subtle. But what I think River’s does really well is make us connect so closely with Kammie as a character that when we find out what she has been a victim of, we automatically want what is best for her; ultimately we want her out of the well.
I would’ve liked The Girls to be a little more well rounded as characters. They have physical flaws described by Kammie but their demeanours seem inherently mean, to the point where they leave her and Kammie believes that they won’t come back. However this could be a stylistic choice on behalf of River’s because Kammie hasn’t really known them very long. I think with this being a “middle-grade” aimed novel, character development away from stereotypical tropes isn’t always necessary but I feel like this would’ve simply added something else to this already enjoyable read. Another thing I would’ve liked a little better explained was her daydreams/hallucinations. As she starts to lose oxygen she begins to see a coyote who can speak french and believes that there are zombie goats beneath her. It was just a little confusing at times as i wasn’t sure if she could actually see these things or if she was just imagining them.
Overall I think this is a really interesting concept for a novel. It has a very short timeframe with a really engaging narrative voice, good use of time and how the space is used, or lack of it for that matter. I think River’s has created a really enjoyable novel for people of all ages. Pick up “The Girl in the Well is Me” on March 13th.
Total pages – 224
Total read time – Untimed
Rating /10 – 6
Recommend – Maybe