Minda’s preg review of All The Water in the World by Karen Raney, out 8/6. Received the advance copy at ALA! You can get a copy here.
A stunning debut novel about a teenage girl and her mother as they grapple with first love, family secrets, and tragedy.
Maddy is sixteen. Smart, funny, and profound, she has loyal friends, a mother with whom she’s unusually close, a father she’s never met, devoted grandparents, and a crush on a boy named Jack. Maddy also has cancer. Living in the shadow of uncertainty, she is forced to grow up fast.
All the Water in the World is the story of a family doing its best when faced with the worst. Told in the alternating voices of Maddy and her mother, Eve, the narrative moves between the family’s lake house in Pennsylvania; their home in Washington, DC; and London, where Maddy’s father, Antonio, lives. Hungry for experience, Maddy seeks out her first romantic relationship, finds solace in music and art, and tracks down Antonio. She continually tests the depths and limits of her closeness with her mother, while Eve has to come to terms with the daughter she only partly knows, in a world she can’t control.
With unforgettable voices that range from tender to funny, despairing to defiant, this novel illuminates the transformative power of love, humor, and hope.
Synopsis from Goodreads
What I drank prior: Had a latte while in the airport waiting for my (nine hour!?) flight home. Since being preg also requires you to lower your caffeine intake, this counts as my one cup for today. Did I mention pregnancy is rough?
Spoiler-free Overview: The book had two perspectives: one of 16-year-old Maddy in the past and one of her mother Eve in the present. Maddy was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive late-stage cancer and the family is learning to cope while Maddy balances being a teenager.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: I was really engrossed in the book until about halfway through when Maddy’s voice in the story drops off. This was a shame because the contrasting past/present format of the book was really working for me. Once her mother Eve took the driver’s seat, I wasn’t as interested. Her bit was harder to get through and I didn’t think we got to know Maddy well enough for that to sustain the novel.
Characters: As far as POV characters go, I liked Maddy immensely more than Eve. I’m trying not to be judgmental because she is grieving, but I didn’t like Eve very much. Though I would have cared more about Maddy if she was in the story for longer. I felt like most of what we knew about her was from her mother’s rose-colored perspective. Maddy’s unofficial stepfather Robin is a real hero. I also loved the grandparents of the story—so supportive and loving! Jack the bf was sweet, but a bit bland, and same with Norma, the neighbor. We spent some time on a young colleague named Allison who was kind of a jerk.
Plot: In the past, Maddy is handling her diagnosis like a champ and struggling with typical teen issues, including her first love interest and wanting to know her heritage. The former leads her into a relationship with Jack, the guy-next-door who is involved in climate change activism. Through the shared activism, she finds her true passion. Alongside this, she decides to track down her father who left before she was born—something she wants to do before it is too late. In the present, Eve is dealing with the aftermath of her daughter’s cancer and what it means for the family’s future. As she deals with her grief, she discovers some of Maddy’s secrets and questions her relationship with her daughter and others in her life.
World Building: Personally I loved that this was based in DC! I recognized all the local places that were named, like where the grandparents live near Meridian Hill Park—where I had my engagement pics taken—and Takoma Park. It’s just fun to read about your own city and somewhere not overdone like NYC or even Capitol Hill, isn’t it?
Writing Style: As mentioned, the past/present contrast was great and really drove me through the story. At least until it ended too early. I also appreciated the descriptions of the toll cancer takes on both the sick person and the family members. It was hard and heartbreaking to read, but felt 100% real.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: what was that with Eve in London tracking down and trying to seduce her former lover, Maddy’s dad? Ugh it made my skin crawl. Plus, it seems weird to me that she just had the baby and basically never told him/got in touch because of his knee-jerk reaction to the news. Yikes. I mean, I guess there’s fault on both sides, but man.
Seriously, Robin is a hero. He stood by both mom and daughter through thick and thin—a true partner to Eve even though she took a lot of her grieving out on him and clearly didn’t know his worth. Honestly, most of Eve’s relationships really bugged me, though everyone handles grief differently.
I was extremely disappointed that Maddy’s part in the story ended so early. I suppose it made sense because much of her life was unfinished, but I wish we got to hear her part for longer. And also with the past/present thing, it wouldn’t have been hard to do.
What to pair it with: Whiskey ginger sounds about right—whiskey to drink for sadness and ginger ale to settle the stomach.
Rating: 3/5 shots. First half was closer to 4.