Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Formerly Shark Girl

Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham is the follow up to a book I which resonated with me on multiple levels and has stuck with me for years: Shark Girl. For a quick recap, here is the book talk of Shark Girl I presented a few years ago at a job interview.


Jane is a 15 year-old girl who wins art prizes every year at her high school. She lives with her mom and brother, loves to cook, has a tight group of friends and a crush on a boy named Max. Jane is also the victim of a brutal shark attack where she lost her arm. A man videotaped the entire attack and shared to footage with the media. Thanks this tape, she is now known as “Shark Girl.”

Written by Kelly Bingham, this book is told through letters from strangers, like the one I just read, conversations, newspaper articles and poems.

People tell her how lucky she is, how easily she could have been killed by the shark. And Jane knows that, but she also wonders if it would have been better if she had died. She has to re-learn how to tie her shoes, pour her own cereal and button her pants. Meanwhile her mom and her friends keep asking when she is going to start drawing again. They are concerned that she is giving up on something that was really important to her. But they also know she will never be as good an artist as she was before the attack.

Jane spends weeks in the hospital, in physical therapy and then the rest of the summer hiding in her house, because everyone stares. Plus, she just can't stand everyone's pity, and their attempts to acknowledge or ignore how drastically her life has changed.

Shark Girl is the story of survival: a survival that didn't happen when Jane was pulled from the water by her brother. But a survival that took months to even begin. This is Jane's story...


Having survived a substantial medical trauma as a teenager, I gravitate towards (well-done) books on survival--like Shark Girl. Because when something like that happens, it is all encompassing and effects every aspect of your life for months afterwards. It is something that you can't understand unless it has happened to you and can make navigating daily life near impossible. Jane's story captures this perfectly.

And then came Formerly Shark Girl.

In this continuation, Jane is beginning her senior year of high school. She is worrying about college and her future. She has grown into the woman (ok teenager, but a mature one) that the shark attack has made her. But daily life is not longer a challenge. This is not a story of survival. Instead it about identity and growing up--not something usually seen in books for this age range, but impeccably done.

Told in the same varying format as the first installment, an in-verse narrative interspersed with text messages, letters, and more. Jane has begun volunteering at the hospital where she spent so many months. She is even beginning to consider nursing school, so that she can help others. After all, so many of the strangers that wrote to her after the attack said--that she had been saved for a reason. But she still loves art and had always planned on that being her future. Major life decisions are never easy.

Formerly Shark Girl seamlessly continues the story, providing hope for readers that things do get better, life does move on. And even though disasters and events can, and will, always be a part of your future self they do not define you.

This is a wonderful message for teen and beyond that it is a book teens will want to read.

Four Stars on Goodreads.

ARC provided by publisher.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, Kristi! Thank you for the lovely review!