Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Properties of Water by Hannah Roberts McKinnon

"Growing up on this lake, Marni used to say it was in our blood."
The Properties of Water by Hannah Roberts McKinnon tells the story of a young girl named Lace, whose older sister Marni is harmed in a swimming accident, changing both of their lives forever. Lace and Marni grew up on a lake, but Lace finds herself paralyzed by the idea of returning to the water. Even more scary than swimming is the idea of visiting Marni and accepting what has happened to her.

There were a few minor but odd things that bothered me about the book. One example is that it is never really clear why Lace is called Lace, when her first name is Amelia. Granted, Lace is a nickname of her middle name Wallace- but why does she go by that instead of Amelia? It felt strange to have McKinnon introduce the fact that that the main character's name was Amelia, but then not have her called that. Also, despite the acknowledgments indicating that McKinnon consulted with doctors on the medical aspect of the story, I was a little unclear on how realistic that portion was although I won't discuss it further in order to avoid spoilers.

Despite these minor complaints, The Properties of Water is a heartbreaking and well written novel, and McKinnon is clearly comfortable inside the mind of a young girl as Lace is an extremely believable main character. The relationship between Marni and Lace, as seen through Lace's eyes, is also very genuine as Lace both admires and envies her talented older sister. My favourite character was probably Willa Dodge, the woman who moves in with Lace and her father to help take care of the house while her sister and mother are away. Willa is a fabulous cook, but Lace doesn't trust her, thinking she is keeping a secret. The storyline of Lace and her best friend Beth Ann try to figure out what Willa is hiding was cute and well done, and definitely the sort of spying a kid would do when a stranger moves into their lives. Lace's grandparents, especially her grandmother, are also charmingly well crafted and McKinnon gives each character their own unique quirk which makes each of them memorable in the mind of the reader.

The story itself is pretty simple, but the way McKinnon tells it is both smooth and rich. The best part of The Properties of Water is how well it deals with overcoming grief through the perspective of a young girl. Even though the novel is suitable for younger readers, she doesn't sacrifice writing or description for their sake, capturing beautiful and tragic moments. In one example, she writes:
"He sinks on the bench beside me, and we sit, shoulder to shoulder, like two battered bookends holding up all the sadness in the world. This time I put my arm around him, and Cinder wedges under the bench beneath us, his black fur collecting our tears like gemstones."
The book itself is really short, but despite that it is filled to the brim with emotion. The Properties of Water is a touching story, and it is a perfect book for a young reader of around 12 years old, but it still offers a heart-warming story for older readers who feel inclined to pick it up, as they will certainly appreciate the skill of McKinnon's writing.

Release Date: October 26th, 2010
Pages: 166
: 4/5

Source: Publisher
Buy the Book


  1. Your review is beautiful, Zoe. You have such a way with words!

  2. Zoe, I am a teacher working on classes to renew my license, and I just used your review for a reaction paper I wrote about The Properties of Water. I didn't realize that I don't have your last name, and I kind of need it to put in my paper. If you want to make one up, that's fine. ;) My e-mail is bart467@aol.com Thanks!



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