Shark Girls presents the reader with something horrific, and turns it into something humane. When a shark attacks eight-year-old Willa, her older sister Scat realizes that their lives are about to shift. At school, Scat becomes the one made fun of, because her peers don’t know what to do with the traumatic situation, but they know it would be mean to make fun of the victim of a shark attack. They have to place their confused and scared feelings somewhere, and so Scat becomes the bearer of their vulnerabilities.
As the sisters age, they both respond to the traumatic event in their own ways. Scat becomes a photographer of disasters and a pretty good drunk. Willa becomes more of a mythological force in the novel, as the media and her community label her “Shark Girl,” and believe that she has supernatural powers. While Willa and the shark attack are central to the story, the novel becomes more of a story about dealing with trauma, and learning how it affects all areas of our lives. Disability and the physicality of bodies is beautifully wrestled with throughout all of Shark Girls_, as they create visual reminders of tough emotional realities.
While the aftermath of the shark attack is the main setting to this novel, there is a cursory character development in the story that intrigued me. The girls’ mother, Jaycee, is a woman of her own actions. She has her children call her “Jaycee” because her name is not and never will be “Mom.” After giving birth to each one of her three children, Jaycee allowed herself the space to feel depressed, and didn’t push herself to be a mother until the wave of postpartum depression rolled over her. Jaycee comes off as being harsh and possibly uncaring, but I think there is also something be said here about how a woman can choose her life even in the face of motherhood. How much should a mother have to sacrifice her own identity in order to be viewed as a “good” mother?
Feminism is slowly making its move into the lives of these characters, but in the mix of trying to figure out what that means, the shark attack occurs and finding identity takes on a new path. Shark Girls_ reminds us that we haunted by our own pasts. But more than a story of personal ghosts and tragedy, we are reminded that the fragility of our bodies can become something to be in awe of, something we can be frightened of, and something we can try and forget in order to keep on living. Either path we choose, however, is a path that will always lead back to where we came from.