The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn

HarperAudio. Jul. 2023. 636p. $27.99. ISBN 9780063268821.
Gr 4-7–The fire keeps 13-and-a-half-year-old Maudie and her dad from spending the summer in his self-built California mountain cabin. The water is where they go, back to Dad’s beach hometown. Despite Mom’s insistence that Maudie won’t be able to handle such sudden changes—Maudie is autistic—she’s determined to stay out of Houston, away from critical Mom and angry stepdad Ron. Maudie blossoms, finding amazing new friends, including a local legend who teaches her to surf. Narrator Shalan marvelously, effortlessly personifies neurodivergent author Pla's characters, her talent immediately evident as she opens with an older-voiced poetic epitaph, then instantly transforms into youthful, anxious Maudie. Shalan’s chimerical virtuosity captures warmly protective Dad, crisply masked Mom, simmering Ron, wisely encouraging Etta, and excited friend Paddi. Suffocating under secrets, Maudie realizes, “I have to be the one to speak up.”
VERDICT Skillful Shalan deftly elevates Pla’s latest novel from good to great.

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