Sarah Crossan’s The Weight of Water is a moving, unsentimental coming-of-age story and despite being written entirely in verse, it is utterly page-turning.
Kasienka has come to England with her mother, a suitcase and an old laundry bag. She struggles to both fit in at school and deal with her mother’s growing depression. She finds solace in swimming and it is in the water she discovers her own strength and a friend.
Knowing the book is written in verse before reading it, begs the question – why verse not prose? After reading however, it is impossible to imagine it any other way.
The Weight of Water deals with difficult and dark issues; immigration, alienation, bullying and family breakdown; had the book been written entirely in prose, I think the language may have sentimentalised and over dramatised the story – the sparsity of poetic language prevents this. The verse has a matter of fact, unvarnished style, allowing the moments when the language becomes more emotional to be all the more powerfully felt by the reader.
The forward momentum of the plot sometimes allows for the reader to forget that each chapter is a poem in its own right, and the lines between poetry and prose feel blurred; but then comes a moment when the shape of the text on the page and the breaks in line force the reader to pause and feel, a reminder of the power of the form.
Chapters like the aptly named ‘Grating’ which tells of Kasienka’s first experience of shaving her legs and the sweet and honest chapter about her first kiss bring a warmth and humour to the book and really allow the reader to identify with Kasienka. Her honest self-reflection when she remembers how she used to ignore a girl in her old school in Poland and the way in which she examines her feelings of crisis of identity in the chapter ‘Split’ are feelings every teenager and adult can recognise. She can only ‘be’ someone in the eyes of others and all those someone’s are different;
‘One Kasienka is Mama’s girl … Another Kasienka is Tata’s pilgrim … She is also William’s Cassie … A girlfriend with a mouth and breasts … Cassie belongs to Clair too … She is a dumb, defiant victim … If I only knew Kasienka’s Kasienska.’
Ultimately though, Kasienka’s character has much to teach teenagers about self-preservation in the face of bullying. She doesn’t do the dares posed by Clair to get back in her favour; nor does she treat the new girl cruelly. Kasienka becomes her true self; a strong, confident girl, no longer afraid of being different but realising that she is:
‘… the same
The epilogue chapter ‘Butterfly’ encapsulates the central metaphor of water, how it can, as it is referred to in the title, be a ‘weight’ but also a cleansing, renewing power. The butterfly is a swim stroke but also represents metamorphosis.
Change can be difficult but ultimately for Kasienka empowering:
“When I am in the water
My body moves like a wave:
There is a violence to it
And a beauty…
And I pull,
The Weight of Water is a familiar story told in an entirely unique and powerful way; its style as well as content should be greatly appreciated.