The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers
My rating: 4.5 stars
Summary: Eleven-year-old Kammie is stuck in a well, and the only people who know she’s in there– three mean girls from school– may or may not be going for help. As Kammie slips further and further down the shaft, feeling every scrape on her raw skin and drifting in and out of hallucinations, she thinks back on the last few tumultuous months of her life, allowing the reader to piece together, bit by bit, who the girl in the well really is.
On the cover of The Girl in the Well is Me is a quote from Katherine Applegate that says, “I dare you to pick up this riveting novel without reading straight through to the heart-stopping conclusion.” When I saw that, I scoffed. I hate it when people tell me they read a book in one sitting because I almost never do, no matter how short it is, and I certainly didn’t believe Ms. Applegate about this 200-page middle grade novel. But I had to eat my words this time, because she was right. I read this book straight through, only stopping once to eat dinner. And even then, I felt guilty for leaving poor Kammie in the well while I sat on the couch eating pasta.
What I loved about the book:
* It’s a fast, riveting read, especially for a novel with so little dialogue.
* Writers are told to let bad things happen to our characters, and Karen Rivers really takes this to heart. It’s possible to argue that getting stuck in a well is not the worst thing that has happened to Kammie and even if it is, it’s the cherry on top of a large sundae of terrible things that have happened in her life recently. The book deals with some big bad issues, but it does so in a way that is appropriate for the intended audience.
* The way the back story is woven in is well-done (no pun intended). The revelations are surprising without feeling forced and continue to paint a more vivid picture of the character.
* Despite how much Kammie suffers, the book is also quite funny in places. She has a great voice and a few lines were hilarious enough to make me laugh out loud, like the part about the cats’ names on page 114, and this sentence from page 104: “It doesn’t get worse than being a Grandma-quoting well-bound girl in Texas with a crabby spider on your foot.”
* In her notes at the end of the book, the author makes reference to Baby Jessica, the eighteen-month-old who was stuck in a well in Midland, Texas, for more than two days in 1987. I also vividly remember following that story when I was in elementary school, which is another reason why this book appealed to me. I enjoyed reading from the point of view of the girl in the well, even though Kammie was much older than Baby Jessica.
Why not 5 stars?
First, I didn’t love the very end. It’s hard to explain why without giving anything away, so I’ll just say that I wish the book had ended a little sooner. Also, I really enjoyed reading this book in one sitting. It made it feel like I was there with Kammie, experiencing the trauma in real time. But there’s part of me that feels like you NEED to read the book that way to really enjoy it. I could see how repeatedly putting it down and picking it up again over the course of days would take away the immediacy of the situation. It might feel slower and more repetitive that way since, after all, this is a book that takes places almost solely in a well.
Overall, though, The Girl in the Well is Me is a great read that I think would appeal to a lot of kids.