By Bryce Moore
Published by Lee & Low Books, April 1, 2012
368 pages (hardback)
Teacups: great for tea. Really sucky as places-to-live-out-the-rest-of-your-eternal-existence. Very little elbow room, and the internet connection is notoriously slow. Plus, they're a real pain in the butt to get out of, especially when you've gone non-corporeal.
When Tomas was six, someone-something-tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States.
Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. Ready to drown him again and imprison his soul in a teacup.
Then there's the fire víla, the water ghost, the pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are all after him.
All this sounds a bit comical, unless the one haunted by water ghosts and fire vílas or doing time in a cramped, internet-deprived teacup is you.
If Tomas wants to survive, he'll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact. (from NetGalley)
To be honest, when I started reading Vodnik I didn’t really like it. I found Tomas to be whiny and all the pop culture references seemed more like the author name-dropping instead of a creating an interesting piece of literature. But then Tomas and his family ended up in Slovakia. And there was an ancient castle. And he starting seeing things. That is when the book got good and the author hit his stride.
Bryce Moore did something many authors have trouble doing: he combined several story-lines/events into one cohesive novel that was captivating and will make readers think. The references an inclusion of folklore made Vodnik whimsical and unpredictable. And, as a bonus, you don’t need to know anything about Slovak folklore to understand the book. In fact, not know makes the book even more of a page-turner. Tomas also deals with bullies, family secrets, morality, racism, and financial troubles. But instead of Vodnik being a depressing read (I mean, Tomas does make friends with Death herself!), there is sarcasm, irony, and snarkyness that drew me in. The more I read the book the more I liked it and finally I decided that finishing the book was more important than doing laundry or going to bed at a decent time.
I will admit that some of the scenes and characters might be difficult to imagine. Most readers have never roamed the grounds of a really really really old castle or wandered the streets of a European city once held by Communists. Luckily I was able to spend two weeks in Riga, Latvia while in college and we did visit an ancient castle, stayed a few blocks away from a crumbling city wall, and were allowed to walk the streets of the city where centuries-old beauty mixed with the remnants of Communism. This experience helped me imagine the places Tomas was experiencing, but had I not had my experiences and knowledge, I think I would have envisioned the book much differently.
I really hope that kids (and adults) pick this book up. It has a little bit of everything and once you get past the mediocre beginning it is a wonderful book.