By: Cynthia Ayala
Still Waters by Ash Parsons is a young adult story that follows high school senior Jason, an outsider who becomes sucked into the popular crowd for dangerous and life threatening reasons. Published on April 21, 2015 by Philomel Books, a children’s imprint of Penguin Books.
This incredibly gritty novel does not pull any punches, literally. Jason suffers from an abusive household; one where he takes the punches his father throws to protect his little sister. The constant abuse forces him to take on a job becoming a lackey for Michael, the school jock and regular manipulating sociopath. However, there is more to the job than detailed, and as the story unfolds, it becomes darker and unsuspecting.
Parsons writes the story in a way that blindsides the reader, doing it excellently. While the reader is reading the lines, submerging himself or herself within the narrative, they are baffled by the outcome yet not entirely surprised. The events that take place force the reader to go back and re-read the characters narrative, read what they are saying and acting acknowledging the uneasy gut feeling that they—the readers—have inside themselves. Between the lines, something is going on but the reader is left unaware of what. With every lie that shows itself, with every contradicting characterization, the reader has fallen in step with the main protagonist Jason, questioning everything.
Additionally, with every blindsiding moment, it is difficult for the reader to pinpoint just who the victim of the story is. Is it Jason? The dream girl? Michael? Readers will want to feel for each of these characters because they are all caught up in something that is bigger than they are, dangerous for them. Someone else is manipulating everyone, so it is just a matter of who is the puppeteer. The reader wants to connect and root for the underdog who spits in the face of pretentious rich, especially when he is using them to get out of a tough situation.
His actions and attitude make Jason a grounded and very guarded character. Throughout the novel, he is painted as the silent brooding type, but his narratives and characterization speaks volumes. Readers get to know and understand this character. He is honest. He says little because he does not want to be a part of the crowd that spews bull all the time, he does not wish to be fake. Moreover, while the “cool” kids are trying to bring him down, he does not let them. Repeatedly he rises to the occasion with his head held high. He is not perfect, but he is believable. Jason is a very real character suffering from very real problems.
What’s very admirable is the fact that Parsons does not shy away from abuse. Moreover, no one ever should. He presents it with its true dark colors and shows readers the harsh after effects, how it ruins a person, tears away at a household. It is heartbreakingly real and for Parsons who give this to reader’s shows true strength. He does not sugar coat anything; he gives the truth.
A powerful debut novel with all the characters captivating in this gritty, dark world. (★★★☆☆ | B)