Review: Waterhole by Fiona Bell

Erich Mayer

Waterhole, published by University of Queensland Press, is aimed at young readers and in that respect it succeeds.
Review: Waterhole by Fiona Bell

Fiona Bell's Waterhole.

This novel,Waterhole, is aimed at young readers, usually defined as being in the age range from twelve to twenty. In that respect it succeeds. It is about family and relationships and features sixteen-year-old Sunny and the stories of her failures and successes in difficult circumstances.

Sunny’s mother was recently killed in a car accident. Sunny is distraught and unfairly blames the disaster on her stepfather, Kevin. She thinks she has seen her mother’s ghost. Her counsellor tells her it is not uncommon ‘for people to think they have seen a loved one after they’ve passed.'

It is the end of the boarding-school term and Sunny has to return to remote Kelly’s Crossing and to the stepfather she resents. Kevin is a taciturn man who finds it hard to communicate, so misunderstandings complicate his relationship with his stepdaughter, a relationship which goes from bad to worse. Further difficulties arise because Dylan, who is the son of an obnoxious neighbour, has got lost in the bush. Along with Gary, Dylan’s father, Kevin was the last person to see Dylan before he disappeared. As the days go by and Dylan remains missing, Kevin is suspected of his murder.

Not far from the farm where Kevin and Sunny live is a beautiful waterhole fed by a fast-flowing creek. It is a lovely place for swimming in the oppressive heat of a northern summer but dangerous when the rains bring flood. It is at the waterhole that Sunny thinks she sees her mother’s ghost. It is there that she meets with her only local friend, Matt. It is there she has an accident.

The atmosphere of a small township in a remote part of northern Queensland is realistically portrayed. The local characters, young and old, come across as the sort of people you would expect to meet in that environment. In Sunny’s opinion ‘there were two types of people in Kelly’s Crossing, the insiders…who were the farmers and property owners – they wore cowboy hats, boots, the works – and then there were the outsiders.'

The character of Sunny is, for the most part, well evoked by an author who demonstrates a very good understanding of teenage mentality. So it is unfortunate that the book is written in the first person because the voice of the narrator throughout the book is that of an adult, not that of a teen. For example, walking home early from a birthday party she did not want to attend, Sunny says ‘the forest became a collage of blue and lavender moon shadows, and above me the Southern Cross tilted jauntily in the sky.’ That may be a beautiful description but is hardly one a miserable teenager would have voiced, least of all in the circumstances. Similarly, Sunny’s abrupt shifts in attitude that occur towards the end of the novel are out of character.

Of course young people often read books primarily aimed at adults and adults can read books intended for younger people. The best of the latter sort appeal to readers of all ages. This novel is not one of those.

Rating: ★★☆ 


By Fiona Bell

Published by UQP

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog