❈ Huge thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a fair review ❈
Title: Like Water
Author: Rebecca Podos
Release Date: October 17th, 2017
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Content Warning: Illness, D slur, some Homophobia
Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.
That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.
Like Water has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. All of the details I heard about Like Water made me think it had the makings of my next favorite Young Adult Novel. There was post high school aimlessness, waterpark mermaids, and an on page bisexual main character and genderqueer love interest. And the cover had stars on. After reading Like Water, I feel confused as to why I didn’t absolutely love it.
“There’s so much I haven’t figured out. Most of the time I think I’ve got absolutely nothing figured out. But I’ve figured out how how to move forward anyway, and that’s not nothing.”
The first half of Like Water was underwhelming. Despite there being a handful of scenes and quotes that I thought were stellar, almost everything else fell short of what I expected. The ending of Like Water is truly what pushed my rating and enjoyment up so much. I thought it was incredible, which is why my lackluster feelings on most everything before that are challenging to reconcile (especially because I was so in love with the premise for this book😭).
There were two big things that I liked in Like Water: how it showed life post high school and the ending. In my opinion, both of those aspects were done exceptionally well. Vanni, the main character, had her life after high school mapped out. She would go out of state to college to get out of her small town and then maybe swim for a Division II school. Then her father got sick, her plans fell through, and she cut off all her friends finding herself in the dreaded position of being stuck in El Trampero.
I loved the set up for Vanni’s character. One of the biggest expectations today is having your life after high school mapped out. It seems like everyone knows exactly where they want to go to college, what they want to major in, and who they’re going to work for. Society has made it so not knowing what you’re going to do is shocking despite it being ridiculous to think that we should know who we are and what we want to be as teenagers. Much like Vanni, I definitely didn’t follow the plan I made for my life after college in my freshman year of high school. Many people don’t. Outside circumstances can prevent that. I’m so pleased to see a story like Vanni’s in Young Adult. Narratives showing that it’s okay to not know where you’re going and who you are after high school are vital. That theme paired with the book’s ending, which I won’t get into because of spoilers, meshed perfectly. Vanni’s parting words were beautiful (and they happen to be one of my favorite ending tropes).
What seemed to be the reason behind my lack of love for this book was the execution. The bare bones of the story were there. And they were strong. I loved the idea of a post high school bisexual heroine truly falling in love for the first time while still trying to find her place in life after everything that has happened. Honestly, it seemed like a dream come true. However, potential does not make a story. Potential can only do so much when the content itself is lacking. I found it difficult to buy into the story because there wasn’t enough development there for me. I would’ve loved to have seen more of Vanni before she actually graduated high school, or maybe even more of her home life. I wanted to be showed more.
If the timeline of this book was drawn out, I think I would’ve liked it more. A lot of the story does rely on the fact that Vanni is still maturing and figuring out who she is. Her side of her relationship with Leigh relies on the fact that it isn’t a mature relationship and that she is turning her into a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In fact, I liked that part. I’m a huge proponent of relationships developing and continuing to develop post story in the form of a Happy For Now. That being said, just because character or relationships are underdeveloped intentionally, doesn’t mean that showing them should be done in an underdeveloped way. I would’ve loved stronger scenes with the two of them, or maybe more of them. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I wanted more out of Leigh and Vanni because in theory I should’ve adored them. They were both flawed, sometimes unlikeable people who needed to grow. I love that in characters, but for whatever reason that didn’t end up being the case in Like Water.
Like Water is definitely a book to keep on your radar. Don’t take my lower end rating as a deterrent. The story contains so many unique characteristics like the fact that the Latinx Bisexual heroine doesn’t have to deal with internalized homophobia when she realizes she’s Bisexual, and that her father has has Huntington’s disease. Plus, Like Water features a genderqueer love interest which I’ve only seen in one other 2017 release, Wild Beauty. And if waterpark mermaids aren’t enough to entice you, I don’t know what is.
Was this a case of overblown expectations? Probably. Did it also fall short because of the execution? Most Likely. Am I still crushed that I didn’t love this one? Yes. Does this mean I don’t recommend Like Water? Definitely not. I think this could be a great book for other people.