Kel Crew has lived in the swamps all of her life up until now. More fortunate folk live in the Towers. Kel has a plan: kidnap a Towers girl, ransom her for drugs and sell those to pay for a life-saving operation that she needs. She sets off taking her baby with her. She refers to him as “it” at first. We trace her development as the baby gradually becomes ‘he’, gains a personality and eventually a name. She seems at first not to care for him but we note that she is constantly checking that he is still breathing.
Her relationship with Rose the girl she captures, with the ocean and with life in general is complex. There is no happily ever after in this story and that is of course quite right in a novel written for young adults. There is however a form of survival.
Natasha Carthew brings us some delightfully refreshing prose: “It was a stupid baby, if it wasn’t it would have put its fist to its mouth and left it there for gumming” (30), “She stepped into the shadows of the low-slung nothing-much sun” (46), “She stood at the door and tried every crack and corner for looking and when she heard footsteps scuffing the stairs down to her she sat backed up on the ground and waited” (134).
It’s difficult to like Kel but Rose’s privilege, her growing fondness for the baby and the demanding trials mainly on the ocean that the two girls face make us more sympathetic towards her.