Review: Dive Smack
DIVE SMACK (Amazon), Demetra Brodsky’s debut YA novel, is a fast-paced mystery that conveys both the exhilaration and exhaustion of teen life with a supernatural twist. In diving parlance, a ‘dive smack’ occurs when a diver mis-judges their entry and hits the water painfully instead of smoothly. It also describes the situation of Theo Mackey, who’s the captain of the dive team and has a good shot at a scholarship to Stanford–if he can keep the rest of his life from spiraling out of control.
When Theo is assigned a family history project at school he freaks out. Theo has a good reason though–hewas playing with matches the night his house burned down, killing his mother. He blames himself her death as well as his father’s, which followed three years later. So when Theo is assigned a family history project at school he…freaks out. The bad news is that the only way Theo can find out about his family history is by asking his alcoholic grandfather, or his Uncle Phil, both of whom are reluctant to answer his questions. The good news is that his crush Iris is in his group but even that feels like more stress for Theo.
Under mounting pressure to perform well on the dive team and on his family history project, Theo starts having flashbacks. As lost memories surface, Theo begins to doubt his own narrative about childhood and his relationship with his Uncle Phil. When Theo realizes that some of his ‘memories’ haven’t happened yet, he suspects that he shares his mother’s gift for precognition and that there may be more to the story he’s always told himself about the fire that destroyed his home. Working with Iris and his best friend Chip, Theo uncovers increasingly disturbing information that spurs him to confront his past.
Brodsky gives Theo a sharply realized interiority. Even as the book delves into the supernatural, Theo still struggles to be a good team captain, deal with the stress of school work, family trauma (including an alcoholic caregiver), and dating Iris–struggles that will be relatable to a wide variety of teens.
Theo and his best friend, Chip, have the most convincing relationship in the book; unfortunately, Brodsky’s efforts to give Theo’s budding romance with Iris the same believability fall flat. Some of this may have been my inherent suspicion of characters who rescue butterflies, which Iris does one of the first times we meet her, along with several other characteristics that pushed her towards ‘manic pixie dream girl.’ In trying to connect a ‘jock’ and a ‘nerd’ Brodsky relies too heavily on stereotypes for Iris to really shine.
One of my biggest disappointments with DIVE SMACK was that Brodsky never developed the horror and gothic elements in her novel. At first I thought this lack of creepiness was deliberate; the story is paced like a thriller and many thrillers never develop into full-blown horror despite their darker elements. However, after reading about Theo’s terrifying visions, Iris’ accurate fortune telling, a visit to a crumbling psychiatric institution that literally has a graveyard attached, and the reveal of some creepy twins, it felt these gothic elements weren’t just happenstance, but essential to Brodsky’s plot. The horror is already there–by leaning into it, both with tone and narrative attention–I think Brodsky might have taken this book from good to great.
Brodsky also sells herself sort by mis-timing the climax. At one point I wondered if I was going to be left hanging and have to read a sequel to find out critical information because the wind-up was so long. Because the climax comes so late, there’s no room for a proper denouement; by not allowing her characters (or readers) to come to terms with the consequences of their discoveries, Brodsky misses some emotional impact.
Overall, I think YA readers will enjoy this book. The narrative flaws I mentioned aren’t sink or swim (ha!) and Brodsky is a strong enough writer that I would be interested in reading a subsequent novel by her.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Yes, lots of teenage boys swearing
- Violence: Not much--a climatic fight scene
- Sex: A good amount of sexual innuendo, one scene that fades to black