Allison's Book Bag

Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick

Posted on: July 23, 2014

These days, a quiet novel is a risk. Cell phones, television shows, video games, and the sort, are constantly competing for everyone’s attention. If even a single page in a novel fails to hold drama, create suspense, and provide surprises, how will that novel merit anyone’s focus? Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick is the perfect example of a quiet novel which is different enough to warrant interest. Marley’s reflective narration mesmerized me. As did Vernick’s down-to-earth plot, where the most earth-shaking events were a divorce, a betrayal, and the realization that people change.

Some novels are so powerful in their style that one must cleanse their reading palette before tackling the next book. This is the case with Water Balloon. Marley is an observant seventh-grader. When Marley surprises her friends with a balloon blitz during a Monopoly game, she notices how her mom is happy, almost proud, in a goofy way when she finds an unused balloon. She describes how her dad gets a look of wonder, as if he couldn’t believe how great his wife was, or how lucky he was to be married to her. As for her friends, Marley takes pleasure in their having no idea how they could be sitting outside playing a game on a hot spring day and the next moment being bombed with water and balloons. Marley is also a self-aware teen. When her mom drops her off to stay with her dad for the summer, Marley remembers how much it hurt to be away from her mom in preschool. Marley is poignantly aware that all she really wants to do is wrap herself around her mom and not let go. Even when Marley is confused, I love how carefully she tries to sort through those emotions. She compares her parents’ divorce to her relationship with her dog. He used to weigh only eight pounds, now he’s this big dog, but the change happened over time. And so her parents once used to love one another, now they’re angry with one another, but the change also wasn’t all that obvious.

Some novels are also so dramatic in their events that it’s hard returning to reality after closing the last page. This is not the case with Water Balloon, but that’s a reason why I like it. I remember years ago how every time I heard of a new romance movie, there seemed to be some new angle with it. Until romantic lovers ended up being ghosts coming back to right wrongs. About that time, I started wishing for a straightforward simple love story. The same goes for realistic fiction. I never lose touch with the heart of Water Balloon, the way I do with novels which are jammed packed with trauma. Everything in Water Balloon is about how complicated relationships are, those with parents, neighbors, friends, pets, and even that boy next door. The relationships almost always remain real to me, because of how normal the interactions are. Marley and her dad learn about each other through the simple acts of gardening, going fishing, and listening to ballgames together. She and her friends drift apart, because of how their views about board games and balloon fights change. Nothing really extraordinary happens to help Marley to realize that she needs to open up her life to new traditions and friends, but that again goes back to how real her life feels, and why Water Balloon is a quiet gem.

There were a couple of problems. When Marley finds herself deserted, Marley compares herself to a loner at school. Maybe readers are supposed to feel sympathy for the solitary, but the comparison bothered me because of how Marley always negatively viewed the girl. As the summer progresses, Marley encounters the boy next door. Romance is a middle school novel isn’t uncommon. Indeed, I would have welcomed it, if Jack hadn’t seemed so perfect in contrast to Marley’s former friends. Yes, they do have one quarrel, but otherwise he reads like every girl’s dream date. In reality, relationships with guys are just as complicated as those with girls.

Those quibbles aside, I found Water Balloon as a beautiful calming novel. Marley is someone I’d love to meet in real life. And Water Balloon is the type of quiet fiction that leaves me clamoring for more of its kind.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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