Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, 276 pp, RL 5
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Purchased with grant funds for my school library
Shark Girl is a verse novel about overcoming challenges and the power of mindset. Narrated in poems, Jane Arrowood, gifted artist, tells the story of losing her arm to a shark attack the summer before her junior year and how she copes. Waking from a coma ten days after the attack, Jane faces weeks of rehabilitation, healing and therapy as she adjusts to her phantom arm, a prosthetic, and the prospect of never creating art again. Returning home, everything is new and an adjustment. At first, Jane stubbornly refuses to learn the new skills she needs and to grow in new ways. But, as time passes and she returns to school and her friend group, expands her world in new ways she never considered.
In Jane, Bingham has created a believable every-girl, touching on important relationships as the story unfolds. Jane's changing understanding of and love for her mother is poignant, as is her friendship with eight-year-old Justin, a boy she meets in the hospital. Justin lost a leg in a car accident and the process of going through rehab and re-entry into every day life with him as a counterpoint is a good reality check for Jane. Bingham captures the range of emotions and questions Jane experiences and asks herself and the universe after her loss. I especially appreciated Bingham's use of the media (this book was published in 2011, so no social media and smart phones quiet yet). As Jane is being attacked, rescued by her older brother and resuscitated on the beach, a man films everything and releases (or sells) the video, making her devastating experience a widely seen event. Jane's brother and mother advise her not to watch it and she listens. However, relatives, friends, classmates and people she doesn't know do watch it. Interspersed with Jane's narrative are letters from well-wishers, many of whom are also amputees. Approached by the media months after the attack, Jane is told that America wants to know how she is doing. The public cares about her and her healing. Yet Jane wonders, often, about the man who stood on the beach passively filming and then handing over the video. Refreshingly, Jane refuses to make her personal trauma public.
If anything, I hope that young readers take away from Shark Girl the way in which the growth mindset that Jane reaches post-attack is profoundly powerful and hopeful (where her closed mindset was not) and the idea that the personal does not need to be made public, even when powerful people tell you it does.
Jane's story continues in Formerly Shark Girl