One Would Think the Deep, written by Claire Zorn, is a breathtaking ode to the Australian coast and growing up in the 90s that allows readers to lose themselves in the evocative descriptions of landscape, life and love.
It’s 1997 and seventeen-year-old Sam is mourning the sudden loss of his mum. Sam has always had things going on in his head that no one else understands, not even his mum. And now she’s dead, it’s worse than ever.
With nothing but his skateboard and a few belongings in a garbage bag, Sam goes to live with the strangers his mum cut ties with seven years ago: Aunty Lorraine and his cousins Shane and Minty. Sam soon reverts to his childhood habit of following Minty around and finds himself learning to surf in order to cut through the static fuzz in his head. But the days slowly meld into one another, and as ghosts from the past begin to reappear, Sam has to make the ultimate decision: will he sink, or will he swim?
Claire Zorn has always been an author on my radar, but it wasn’t until One Would Think the Deep that I finally got to sit down and read something of hers. The Protected and The Sky So Heavy have been on my TBR for what feels like years, and I’ve heard so many positive things about her work, but you know how it goes. A book that’s a couple of years old will always be bumped off the list when you have to limit yourself to only one new book at the store and see the new novel everyone’s currently raving about on Twitter (well, as much raving as you can do in 160 characters), and posting gorgeous photos of on my favourite #bookstagram accounts. I’m sure we’re all guilty of this. But finally, thanks to the lovely people over at UQP, I’ve been given the opportunity to read Claire’s brand new and much awaited novel.
Once again I’m proud to call Australia my home, as it’s also home to so many talented authors and provides the backdrop for so many beautiful and powerful novels. Australian authors never cease to provide us with beautifully breathtaking and heart-wrenchingly powerful YA contemporaries, and this novel is no exception. Set in a small coastal town near Sydney in 1997, One Would Think the Deep conveys the realities of living in that era and being shaped by the landscape you grew up in. The thing I loved most about this novel is the way it captures the essence of this coastal town and the days spend riding waves (and sometimes falling off them), getting sand between your toes and in your hair, and experiencing the embarrassment of having a bright red nose and pink cheeks for a few days after spending too long in the sunlight. I think that part of what makes Claire Zorn’s writing so magical is the way she envelops the reader in surroundings that are so believable and so vivid that one can’t help but devour this book in one go.
But, I do have a confession to make. I think I must have had this book confused with Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, because I somehow found myself under the impression that there would be time travel in this one. Maybe I found myself thinking that because I recently bought a copy of Passenger, or maybe it was because both books have a picture of the sea on the front cover, or maybe it’s just because my mind was somewhere else when I opened up One Would Think the Deep. Nevertheless, I went through this entire novel thinking that our characters would find themselves transported into the past as they rode the waves. Laugh at me all you want, but I got to the half-way mark of this book and saw that there still hadn’t been any time travel, and I honestly kept believing that it would happen in just the next chapter. And maybe that distracted me from the story a little, but I also think that it provided me with a motive to keep reading. Let me explain.
So when I imply that I needed a motive to keep reading, by no accounts do I want you to assume that this book is boring. However, it is uneventful. To be honest, nothing much happens in terms of plot, which I can understand because I feel that One Would Think the Deep is more of a character-driven narrative instead of a plot-driven one. And maybe it’s because I didn’t particularly adore the characters that I found this book slightly lacklustre when it could have easily outshone all the other Aussie YA contemporaries if not for the rather uninteresting and underdeveloped characters and the lack of substance in terms of the plot. I wanted this book to take me on a rollercoaster of emotions. To bring me up to the top of a peak and allow me to smile at how far I’ve seen the characters come, only to send me racing back down the tracks, sometimes fearful, but always enjoying the ride and knowing that the journey I’m being taken on is one that will leave me feeling a little different to when I began. And the best part is, like a rollercoaster, these types of books will always be there for you to experience over and over again. While One Would Think the Deep was somewhat enjoyable overall, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to reread it in a hurry.
Although the narrative style could be read as slow-burning and contemplative, I just think that’s a nice way of saying that nothing much happens. All our characters do is surf, listen to music, and go out with the latest person on their mind. However, I feel that all of these events would have been satisfactory if I found myself caring about our protagonist, Sam. As I read this book, I found myself in the strange position whereby I felt sorry for him and the hardships he’s been through, but at the same time, I didn’t feel overly connected to him. I could sympathise, yes, but empathise? Not so much. I think that I like the idea of Sam more than the actual character. His life was spiralling out of control after his mother died and he found himself in a town where he new hardly anyone and was trying to find a purpose in life, but even the most tragic of backstories couldn’t help me relate to him. Whether that was because I hadn’t experienced the same things as he did or because I couldn’t find many things similar between us, or maybe that the pervasive use of Australian slang used by both him and his friends really got on my nerves, I don’t know. But all I know is that if I ever hear anyone say the words ’bruh’, ‘matey’ or ‘ayy’, I will actually go all ‘Frankie‘ on them and hit them in the face with a hardcover copy of the collected works of Shakespeare or something. Yes, maybe young people in small coastal towns do speak like that, but by the Angel was it annoying.
Overall, the one thing I enjoyed most about this book was the world-building and the way Claire Zorn made this fictional coastal town a place that drew me in and made me to lose myself in the sound of the waves, the smell of salt and sand, and the feeling of the sunlight on my skin and warmth in my heart. The breathtaking nature of these evocative descriptions is what allowed this novel to transcend to more than just another YA. It’s a beautiful ode to the Australian coast and to the 90s, and I’d recommend it to everyone looking to escape to the coast for a few hours (minus all the rigmarole of booking flights and finding someone to mind your pet). I’d give One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn a score of 7 out of 10.
What are some of your favourite YA novels set in Australia? Are beautiful descriptions enough to get you to read a book? What’s your opinion on the overpowering use of Aussie slang? Were you, or do you think you’d be able to, relate to and connect with Sam and the other characters? Would you recommend any of Claire’s other novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks to UQP for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!