Book Review of Below by Meg McKinlay

May 31, 2013 Kara 10

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: May 14th, 2013
Pages: 224
Genre: Young Adult-Contemporary
Source: NetGalley



Description from GoodreadsSecrets have a way of floating to the surface. . . . Mystery, compelling characters, and an abandoned town beneath a lake make for a must-read adventure.

On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. The mayor flipped a lever and everyone cheered as Old Lower Grange was submerged beneath five thousand swimming pools’ worth of water. Now, twelve years later, Cassie feels drawn to the manmade lake and the mysteries it hides — and she’s not the only one. Her classmate Liam, who wears oversized swim trunks to cover the scars on his legs, joins Cassie in her daily swims across the off-limits side of the lake. As the summer heats up, the water drops lower and lower, offering them glimpses of the ghostly town and uncovering secrets one prominent town figure seems anxious to keep submerged. But like a swimmer who ventures too far from shore, Cassie realizes she can’t turn back. Can she bring their suspicions to light before it’s too late — and does she dare?

You know, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. Originally published in Australia in 2011, it did draw my attention because it is extremely difficult to get Aussie fic in the US unless you pay top dollar for it or know someone who will ship it to you. It was titled Surface Tension in Australia, and I have to admit to liking that title better than the one Candlewick chose. I do like the current cover a lot better though. The colors draw me in and it does fit the story of the book well.

For me, this book was all about tone and I think the author did an amazing job capturing the mystery, the unsettling feeling, and the entire book felt haunting to me. Not scary at all, but very tense and tightly woven. It is not an extremely plot heavy book, but the mystery is compelling and the characters engaging.

And the other thing that i must point out is how original and different the topic is. The blurb is what originally made me want to read it because it sounded like nothing I had ever heard of before. Original plots are hard to find these days, and though it’s a pretty linear story line, it does get there in some unusual ways. The writing was mentally stimulating and the imagery really captured my focus. Even though the book was set in Australia, at times it is kind of hard to tell. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you are.

Cassie is a wonderful protagonist. She’s twelve, curious, and exactly like someone her age should be. She wasn’t alive when the town her family grew up in was flooded (born that day actually), and she feels left out because they have all these memories that don’t include her. She has two older siblings that were planned pregnancies, but Cassie was an accident. So, under the Lower Grange Reservoir are many of her family’s memories. Rather than swim at the public pool and dodge band-aids, Cassie decides to swim at the lake without the knowledge of her family. There she finds something and our mystery truly begins. It takes a little bit for the story to get going but I never found the exposition or build-up boring. 

I don’t read a lot of contemporaries and I really enjoyed this one. Candlewick puts out some great titles year after year, and I do hope you decide to give it a chance. It’s short, mesmerizing, and I would not be surprised to see it nominated for some awards this upcoming season. I definitely think it deserves to find an audience. 

Oh, and swimming in a lake above a drowned town would be creepy as hell.

Favorite Quote:


“You’d think that when you sink something under five thousand swimming pools’ worth of water, it’d be drowned and gone. You’d think it would be done with. But somewhere inside me, I knew–you can’t just drown a town and call it over. Eventually, things have a way of floating to the surface.”

4/5 Stars

10 Responses to “Book Review of Below by Meg McKinlay”

  1. Amy

    I haven’t heard of this one before, but it sounds really good. I will have to check it out!! Awesome review!

  2. Melanie

    I’m always looking out for some Aussie YA fic. I havent heard of this one so I must go find this at the book store. Glad you thought that this was original!

    Stunning review, Kara! <33

  3. Haley @ YA-Aholic

    So I’m reading your review and thinking “omg I want this..I want this NOW”…then I see the release date you have listed, May 14th 2014…and I thought “NOOOO, WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT” then I went to go add it to my never ending list of books I am waiting for on goodreads..and realized you just accidentally marked it as 2014 instead of 2013. So now I have ordered it an am excited to read it, thanks for the recommendation! (:

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