Kia Heavey is blessed with a rich imagination and story-telling skills. Her adult novel (Night Machines) is filled with vivid imagery, dreamy and unforgettable. Her second novel (Underlake), for teen readers, also startles with dreamy, sometimes disturbing, always unforgettable images.
Christian moms will love this novel for its unique heroine, a teenage girl who doesn’t conform to the values of her affluent classmates and so-called friends. Her own mother is materialistic, image-conscious, and sexually active with a man who cheats on her and embarrasses her. Some role model, eh? Yet Katie has a remarkable reserve of inner strength, wisdom and common sense. She is unchurched, but her intuition is good. This reminds me of a 1996 book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Katie embodies the intuitive and instinctive abilities that Estes describes, an inner wisdom which women have been dispossessed of, over time and across cultures. Estes writes of the archetype of the Wild Woman, a female in touch with her primitive side and able to rely on gut feelings to make choices.
Katie, however, goes beyond mythology and ultimately finds guidance from God. First, she must be uprooted from her familiar friends and home in the city to spend her summer in a small, quiet town by a lake, far from anywhere important. “My life is ruined,” she sobs on page one. Her friends are good about not mocking her for being a cry-baby (how many teen girls suffer the problem of weeping in the school cafeteria), but they aren’t really there for her, especially when their top priority seems to be partying, smoking weed, drinking and making out in public.
At Underlake, Katie meets small-town teens with a completely different set of values. When your mother is already doing the things your friends do, and seems okay with her teenage daughter being “cool” along with them, there’s only one radical way to rebel: by attending church. Katie goes to Mass with her new friends and discovers that she is not as alone in the world as she thought.
The local legend of a Boy in the Lake is where the paranormal and archetypal elements of the novel come into play. To avoid plot spoilers, I firmly resolve to say nothing more about this. But I will point out some of the most memorable lines of the novel. Alone at the dock, Katie enjoys the quietude and serene beauty of the lake. Then:
“Some sort of commotion had pulled her awake… eyes half open, she looked out to the middle of the lake. What appeared to be a boy, or maybe a young man, was swimming and splashing about…. There were no houses or docks or other signs of life; just a silly boy, way out in the middle of the lake, apparently unconcerned that he was hundreds of feet from the nearest shore. He dove smoothly beneath the surface once again, his feet vanishing without a ripple. Again, Katie held her breath and waited for him to surface. This time, she had already exhaled and taken several gulps of fresh air by the time he reappeared. He seemed to be completely at home in the water, playing and paddling. … He was far away and splashing showers of sun-silvered water all about him, but she made out hair that appeared flaxen even though it was wet. …The next time the boy went under, she dozed off again before he came back.”
Katie’s summer at the lake must end, of course, but we see the lake during the winter, with stirring, vivid imagery:
“In the depth of winter, lethargy took hold of the residents of Underlake in earnest. The dimness, the intense cold, the near-perfect stillness worked a spell on all life beneath the seal of ice. Charmed, the creatures remained motionless for days at a time. Fish, amphibians and reptiles alike drowsed in muddy holes and submerged hollows, drawing minimal oxygen as their vital functions slowed to a near halt. The green grasses and reeds of summer had long since browned and drifted downstream, their life forces retreating into root systems, waiting for spring to conjure new shoots.”
An example of Katie not caving to peer pressure:
“Zack pulled a tiny pipe and a plastic bag of dried leaves out of his pocket and placed them on the table, smiling that demented grin of his and looking around the table. Katie and Michaela said no thanks …Katie said nothing as she watched. The sight filled her with apprehension and maybe even sorrow, but she didn’t want to criticize her oldest, best friends. They were all of above-average intelligence, sophisticated and open-minded, after all; they must know what they were doing. So Katie said nothing.”
I won’t comment on structure, style and plot. The prose is straightforward. Mothers, you may rest assured this novel is wholesome and safe for your daughters to read.
Whatever Kia writes next, it’s sure to be dreamy, vivid, imaginative and memorable. I look forward to more from this author.
Novelist, Book Reviewer, Beekeeper and Blogger Howard McEwen writes,
Katie Welch has become unmoored from our culture. While her friends hurl (or are they being hurled?) headlong into pre-mature adulthood, Katie is growing uncomfortable. She has that most horrible of teen angst: She doesn’t ‘fit in’.
She worried for her friends: “They were in such a rush to grow up that they were losing themselves. They lived so fast it scared her. Anxious to prove themselves sophisticated and self-determining, they ironically embraced one decadent teen stereotype after another. Katie had a sense of impending tragedy every time she thought about them.”
Then one day, her mother whisked her to a summer at a lake house. Where, of course, she meets a boy.
…Heavey has a graceful prose. There’s a central mystery too a character that is suspected but Kia is able to plot a nice kabuki dance with her story that you are just not quite sure what that mystery is. Her prose is ethereal in places which shines when her story goes other-worldly.
…Heavey is not shy about making some pointed commentary on today’s society – as it effects both teenagers and adults – and especially the behavior of adults. She’s also not shy about offering up solutions but nothing it too heavy-handed or off-putting.
Grab the book and slip into Underlake. You’ll find it waters comforting.