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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Shark Girl* by Kelly Bingham- young adult book review

Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
Grades 7-9 288 pages Candlewick April 2007 Hardcover    

If there were a higher rating than five stars, I would award it to Shark Girl, the debut novel by Kelly Bingham, who has also been a Walt Disney Feature Animation artist and director. It’s the tale of fifteen-year-old Jane Arrowood’s harrowing encounter with a shark that bites her right arm so severely it must be amputated above the elbow. At turns sad, poignant, and triumphal, told in a series of poems written by Jane, newspaper accounts, and letters from people from around the country supporting and encouraging her, Shark Girl is an excellent book that should be on the “Must Read” lists of teens (and adults) everywhere.

One of the better earlier poems Jane writes in the novel is “Home Movies.” There were times when I, jaded reviewer that I am, almost had tears well up while reading Shark Girl; this poem affected me that much. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter myself and couldn’t help but feel empathy both for Jane and her mother (her father died of cancer when she was very young). After lying in a coma for ten days due to the loss of a great deal of blood, Jane wakes to find that a man on vacation with his family videotaped the entire attack, and it’s been playing on the news ever since then. Her brother, Michael, who applied a tourniquet to her arm and did what he could to help save her life, tells her about the man:
“There’s video.”
Michael gives it to me straight.
“Some person on the beach.
He was taping his kids and then...”

He stares at his palms.

“The guy is a bastard.”
Every word is genuine and heartfelt in Shark Girl. It’s divided into sections, each one about a different stage in Jane’s emotions and attitudes about what has happened to her, how she fears people will act when they see her, and how she slowly comes to terms (as much as anyone ever can) with the process of getting on with life as best as she can.

The first part deals with her initial recovery, pain, and turmoil about what she might have done make her life different. It also tells of her developing friendship with a twelve-year-old boy, Justin, who has lost his leg to cancer. He seems so much braver and accepting to Jane than she is and, in ways, older than her. There are several extremely good poems about this developing relationship and the closeness that their shared experience of having had a limb amputated brings to them.

In the poem “Thoughts on a Tuesday Afternoon,” for example, Jane writes about a low point in the hospital when she is not liking much of anything about her life. Justin asks her if she hated everybody: “You sure look like you do.” He is drawn to her, empathizing with her, even feeling like he’s a part of her family:
He said, “You don’t have to love everybody.
But you have to love your family. We’re nice people.”
Justin includes himself in my family,
not even thinking about it.

I think
I love Justin.
The second part of Shark Girl involves Jane’s fear of going back to high school, her worries about and difficulties adjusting to life with one arm. The final portion of Kelly Bingham’s truly impressive novel deals with Jane’s acceptance and attempts to live as normal a life as she can – not to have pity parties but to move on. She was an award-winning young artist but fears that she never will be again. Still, she doesn’t give up, trying to return to the level of excellence in art that she had previously attained. Also, she begins to seriously consider a career in the medical field and to try to succeed at life’s everyday challenges like cooking, driving a car, mowing the lawn for her mother, and dating.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the degree of high-quality writing in Shark Girl. One can’t prevent oneself from being drawn into and captivated by Jane Arrowood’s world, feeling her anguish and cheering her on to succeed in the face of harrowing circumstances. Before I started reading it, I though this might be the kind of book that would only appeal to young teenaged women (there would be nothing wrong with that at all, if that were the case), but it is a novel that can touch anyone who reads it on many levels, boys as well as girls. It’s also a book that adults can get into, and talk about with their teens. I highly recommend Shark Girl. It’s an unforgettable story.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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