Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer was shortlisted for the 2016 WA Premier’s Book Awards and on the Notables for the CBCA Book of The Year Older Readers 2016.

I love this book, Kathryn Lomer’s love of nature, her amazing sense of place, the beauty of Tasmamia. I feel the wind in my hair, the spray on my face, circumnavigating Bruny Island. I don’t know why it took me 6 months to finish reading, perhaps I wanted to savour my enjoyment.

Will and Summer meet online through their shared love of sailing and Jessica Watson. When Will unexpectedly turns up in Summer’s home town Kettering, he’s in for a shock. Summer isn’t quite who she said she was, and they don’t even share a language.

“We fish together like old friends who have no need of language anyway.”

I enjoyed finding out about Auslan and the differences between communicating through signing as opposed to speaking. Will takes a course in Auslan so he can talk with Summer and the reader learns as Will does. He seems to pick it up really quickly, but I guess Summer is a good incentive. Then Summer’s friend Rosemary says his signing sucks and it all becomes clear.

“I was born with my voice in my hands.”

I knew nothing about Auslan and wondered how well Lomer wrote the experience of a deaf girl. Teenage reader Ally on Goodreads is fluent in Auslan and English and loved the portrayal. At the end of the book are pictures of the fingerspelling alphabet and a list of books to find out more.

“We have Deaf poetry. Not translations of English. The meaning is all in the signing. It moves like a dance.”

At the start of their friendship, Will often mentions when they spend time together they aren’t communicating. Over time he realises there are other ways to communicate without talking: signing, gestures, facial expressions, emailing and writing on paper.

“Everything we need to say is right there between us. Why do people place so much importance on words anyway?”

I loved when Will tries to describe the sounds of the beach to Summer, translate from sound into signs:

“It looks as though he’s the conductor of an orchestra, instructing the waves what sound to make, what rhythm to keep to, how loud a crash to make.”

Summer thinks of Truganini and other Aboriginal inhabitants of what was once Lunawanna-alonnah. At her memorial, Summer wonders about Truganini’s early happier life and the place names we never knew.

“Each headland and bay named by someone white in the past couple of hundred years. But when I look up at the coastline, I imagine Aboriginal people standing there watching strange white-sailed ships pass. Truganini’s ancestors perhaps.”

As with What Now, Tilda B? there were no quotation marks for speech, including when Will and Summer signed together. I didn’t mind this as much as with What Now Tilda B, perhaps I don’t equate signing with speech. But every now and then I got confused and wasn’t sure if a sentence was speech or narration. I’m sure there’s some artsy, e e cummings reason Kathryn Lomer eschews quote marks, but I don’t get it.

“I think of what that beach must look like from a wedge-tailed eagle’s point of view a kilometre up in the sky. And I think about what life might look like if I became a photographer.”

As Will and Summer become friends, each helps the other overcome fears holding them back. Will suggests Summer join him at college next year, expanding her horizons past homeschooling. Summer encourages Will to forgive his mum for leaving and contact her. Oh yeah and they circumnavigate Bruny Island in the Albatross. For such a slow paced book, things suddenly careen right up shit creek.

“Mum says it’s okay to have butterflies anyway, but the trick is to get them flying in formation.”

I love this extended metaphor of Summer’s butterflies of trepidation, nothing like sheep, they’ve got minds of their own.

The cover design by Zoë Sadokierski is exceptional, those brilliant red fish really pop.

Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer