Review Blog

Jun 07 2011

Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay

cover image

Walker Books, 2011. ISBN 9781921720284.
(Age 9+) Recommended. 'The day that I was born, they drowned my town' and so begins Cassie's story of life in her town and the mystery that she uncovers in the lake. Cassie has to swim six laps every day because she was born prematurely and has to build up her lung function. One day after finding another disgusting band-aid in the town's pool she goes to the lake to swim instead. There she meets up with Liam, a boy who has a tragic past, and as the water recedes in the lake because of the drought, they discover that it hides a sinister secret.
I was fascinated by this story and in particular, its setting of a drowned lake during a drought. I once taught near a reservoir whose waters had covered a valley similar to the one in Cassie's story and found the idea of preserving old headstones and the history of the place excited students. It is intriguing to imagine just what tragedies and mysteries have been submerged in the murky depths. What is the secret that Cass and Liam uncover? Has someone been murdered? How will they prove what has happened if the lake is flooded once more?
McKinlay has written a wonderful mystery that kept me guessing to the end. She has scattered clues throughout the book for the more astute reader, but I was still unsure of what exactly had happened right to the stunning conclusion - a wonderful thing for a mystery writer to achieve.
In addition to the suspense, McKinlay has grouped together a range of characters and family situations that also give depth to the story. Readers will identify with Cass, who has to work so hard physically to have a normal life, and with Liam, where a family tragedy has left his father mentally ill and difficult to deal with. The author's writing is a winning combination of vivid descriptions of life in a country town during a drought, the thrill of swimming in dangerous water and the excitement of uncovering a puzzle.
This is an engrossing story that will be enjoyed by both boys and girls in upper primary school and also has enough substance for young teens. After reading this excellent introduction to the mystery genre, I can imagine readers going on to seek out other books by this author and to devour other mysteries.
Pat Pledger

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