When Leah was 9 and Maggie 5, the sisters made a forbidden trip to the condo pool, where Leah drowned. Now 15 and a swim-team star, Maggie interprets her world, her worth and her choices through the prism of that loss.
Loner Maggie has one loyal friend, Julie, and acquires another in Nathan, the boy she’s drawn into her life for reasons she can’t explain. (Maggie’s abrupt, often self-destructive choices may puzzle readers.) With heartbreaking clarity, Baskin limns a family tragedy that’s marked each member, showing how, for even the youngest, grief and loss can scab over into guilt and blame. Leah’s death even haunts Maggie’s twin brothers, born years later. Water, the all-purpose metaphor, serves the tale well, but other tropes are less successful, like Maggie’s unwanted, near-magical power to draw deeply personal confessions from others. In encounters with these undervalued characters (their only role to confess), Maggie’s indifference to their pain casts her in a harsh light. Throughout, Leah makes ghostly appearances, describing the motivations that led to her drowning with unvarnished honesty. Yet her voice also sounds a quasi-fantastic note that undermines the story’s closely observed, lyrical realism.
At once frustrating and deeply moving, this ambitious novel comes tantalizingly close to getting it right. (Fiction. 14 & up)