Last summer, I was one of the many readers who discovered Ana in Jess Keating's first novel, How to Outrun a Crocodile with Your Shoes Untied. I appreciated Ana's character right away. She's a nerdy (read: informed) introvert, an awkward and self-conscious middle school girl in all the ways in which you can relate. In Croc, Ana undergoes an evolution by summoning up her inner courage to share who she really is more confidently with the world...but most notably her intimidating classmates.
After closing the cover of Croc, I was glad to know I could look forward to Ana's return in a sequel adventure.
I wasn't disappointed.
When Ana's Sneer-enemy Ashley turns up as a student volunteer at the zoo for the summer, Ana's instincts kick into high gear. Convinced this is an elaborate plan to get revenge for an embarrassing incident at Ana's Croc presentation, Ana's defenses are heightened. Yet somehow, as Ashley spends more time at the zoo, and the girls work together in the shark exhibit, Ashley manages to coax Ana's mind into second guessing.
Can sharks be more friendly than they seem?
Ana, afraid to trust there may be more to someone than meets the eye, waivers in her position on Ashley, creating conditions in her head that steer her. But when a combination of dangerous mistakes cause Ana grief at the zoo, she must decide where her relationship with Ashley stands.
Reasons I Loved How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel
- Ana lives in a zoo. No, really. How can that not perk your interest? Ana's family moved into the zoo in Croc, and the wild adventures continue in How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel. In this installment, Ana's grandfather has added a shark exhibit complete with a shark tank and touch tank. Though she prefers to work with reptiles, the marine exhibit will be her new assignment for the summer.
- Drama. Ana has just recently (end of Croc) embraced her talent for talking to audiences at the zoo about the animals and creatures that inhabit the zoo displays. Ashley's presence as a zoo volunteer challenges Ana's still-developing confidence. Additionally, Ana is trying to remain close to her first best friend, Liv, who moved to New Zealand and is on an accelerated track to high school. And of course, there is that boy, Kevin, who Ana is trying to figure out-impossible as that is. Keating's cast provides the reader curiosity, suspicion, and the kind of drama you can't put down.
- Character building. Keating steers Ana through questions without being heavy-handed. Ana's resulting inner conflicts are accurate portrayals of how middle school girls think about themselves and others. Ana's internal dialogue about decisions and what is right or wrong helps readers to think about their own position on friendships. Middle school students test their identities, trying to wrangle who they are and will be. Ana isn't exempt from this as she navigates a big important question: Who does she want to be?
- The shark business (part one). Ana's learning about sharks and other marine life is embedded throughout the novel. From the marine life facts that begin each chapter to the true information that is woven into Ana and Ashley's time at the shark exhibit, readers of this fiction work will take away more information about marine animals than they may think at first glance.
- The shark business (part two). Keating's use of the shark as a metaphor for the bigger message in Ana's story is artful. And that's all I'll say about that.
- Who doesn't like to laugh? There is humor everywhere in this book. Whether your laughter is the result of Ana's incessant self-doubt or her description of her brother's thoughts and actions, something will make you chuckle. Maybe you'll be laughing because you, too, will find Ana reminds you of yourself a little.
- Ana is special. Ana makes readers feel normal. Ana doesn't think her life resembles "normal" in any way, but her worries and fears, her fluctuating feelings about everything (friends, Ashley, boys!), her need for reassurance that she is ok...are oh-so-middle-school normal. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like to make a friend in Ana when I was a middle school reader.
- It's as good as the first. Sometimes when you love a character in the author's first book, the second book can be a let down. Not so with Ana. Keating successfully takes Ana and who she has become with her new-found self-confidence and adds layers to her story with pressures from her cast of characters that challenge Ana to continue to grow into her own skin. Croc left me applauding Ana in her self-discovery, and so did How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel, for a different reason.
How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel, the second book in Jess Keating's My Life as a Zoo series, published on January 6 (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). If you want a pair of books for that middle school girl who is still looking for her amazing inner self (ok, or even if she doesn't know she's looking), you'll want to know about Jess Keating's titles.