A gripping mystery about a missing boy and a group of teenagers, one of whom knows something but isn’t telling.
HENRY WEAVER IS MISSING
Three months ago, thirteen-year-old Henry disappeared from The Shallows during a violent storm, leaving behind his muddy mountain bike at the train station.
MASON WEAVER IS TRAPPED
While Mason doesn’t know who he is or what he’s capable of, he knows the one thing binding him to this suffocating small town is his younger brother, Henry.
CHLOE BAXTER WANTS ANSWERS
Why would Henry run away without telling her? One of Chloe’s friends knows something and she’s determined to find out the truth.
As Chloe wades into dangerous waters and Mason’s past emerges, a chilling question ripples to the surface: how far would you go to keep a secret?
Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water is a young adult thriller novel set within a small town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. The residents are reticent, the past is full of secrets, and the truth about a young boy’s disappearance is about to come out.
Deep Water captures a claustrophobic setting. Set in The Shallows NSW, the atmosphere of this small town is incredibly crowded and confined, making you feel like you’re trapped along with the characters. Stylistically, this helps build tension throughout the book, because there is nothing you can do but wait for secrets to reveal themselves.
Structurally, the book shifts between character POVs but also between ‘before’ Henry went missing, and the present. Over time, we come to understand just how hard life was — and is — for Mason and his younger brother. Their mother Ivy is an alcoholic, and she’s often violent, and Mason is left to pick up the pieces.
Deep Water illustrates the notion that you never really know what’s happening behind closed doors. People suspect, but no one in The Shallows really knows how violent Ivy is when she’s alone with Mason and Henry.
“Where the hell was Henry? Surely he’d heard their mother throwing her guts up. Would it kill him to attempt the clean-up himself for once? It’s not like he hadn’t watched Mason do it a hundred times.”
When I compare this with Sarah’s previous novel, YA thriller Small Spaces, I recognise an incredible difference in how Sarah reveals clues and red herrings. When reading Small Spaces, I felt there was too much foreshadowing and the plot was a bit predictable, but with Deep Water, I felt surprised and expectant the entire length of the novel. I had theories that all turned out wrong, I had suspicions that weren’t plausible, and when I came to the ending I genuinely felt satisfied with how the storyline was wrapped up.
Sarah implements the unreliable narrator incredibly well in her novels, particularly in Deep Water with the characters Mason and Chloe. Both are very different — Mason is the rebellious, misunderstood brother of Henry who Chloe suspects might’ve had something to do with Henry’s disappearance. Chloe is stubborn, relentless and refuses to let the mystery fade from people’s minds. Truthfully, she’s kind of annoying, but she’s meant to be. She doesn’t want Henry’s disappearance to remain unsolved for any longer. She hunts down clues until she discovers the truth about what happened the night that Henry went missing.
“Both of Tom’s parents were still around back then, before the court case and his dad’s prison sentence, before his mum fled to Queensland, promising to move her son up with her when she was in a position to do so. That never happened.”
The storm, and the constant mention of water, is symbolic of the pacing in the novel. Everything happens fast, quick and without pause. As the reader, you almost feel like you’ve been taken on a ride and there’s no chance of getting off before the end.
Identity and purpose are strong themes in the book. How well do these teenagers really know their friends, or even themselves? Some of them feel stuck in The Shallows, with no way out of the town. Some feel indebted to others, forced to stay to help their family or their friends. Each character has to learn to understand where they want their life to lead, and that can be a really hard thing to do when you’re also trying to solve a disappearance.
“Henry confided in me. I knew all about the accidents and the arguments, the lean weeks when they could barely afford milk and bread. I was aware of the smashed glassware and missed birthdays, how their power was cut the same week Ivy bought a fancy display cabinet for her collectable plates.”
Admittedly, there are a lot of characters to keep up with in this town. And it’s not just the characters, but their families and their relations and as the truth starts to unravel and you realise just how people are connected to the truth, I’ll admit it got a little confusing. Sometimes it felt like there should’ve been a smaller core cast of characters to allow for a more cohesive plot.
Gripping, suspenseful, engrossing and chilling, Deep Water will have you hooked from the first chapter. Recommended for readers aged 14+
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allen and Unwin Book Publishers