The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
I was so pleasantly surprised by The Deep by Rivers Solomon! I originally checked it out because it had a title similar to a movie that I had heard of. Because of this, I assumed the book would be about some kind of underwater diving adventure gone wrong. After reading the first page, I groaned… Admittedly, I’m not a huge fantasy person, and to read a whole book about humans-turned-fish was not high on my list of priorities. However, I ended up loving this book! It captivated my attention and drew me into a new world, without ever seeming cheesy or overly unrealistic.
The novel centers around Yetu, who struggles with the position her community (known as wajinru) has given her. For their entire existence, one wajinru has been given the memories of all wajinru who have ever lived—the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. This wajinru is known as the historian, and Yetu has been chosen for this task. While she is tormented by the memories of the ancestors, other wajinru live in blissful ignorance, unable to understanding why Yetu is so depressed and physically drained. Yetu is desperate for a way out, a way to end her suffering, but she also feels great responsibility to her kind.
The Deep is a dense novel, and themes are woven intricately throughout. One of the biggest themes is responsibility. Yetu has a responsibility to her people as the historian, but she wonders at what point her own safety trumps her duty. Even when responsibility is abandoned, Yetu constantly worries about her role, feeling called back.
Another theme is the importance of history. Yetu is the historian, so you might be able to guess that hanging on to the memories of the past is important! In this novel, it becomes the central focus of the conflict. Should the memories of the ancestors be saved, even if they include some dark and difficult experiences? Are all parts of history important?
This novel was incredibly well-written. For someone who is not typically drawn to books like this one, I was amazed to find myself desperate to pick it up again. The writing style just draws the reader in, without ever seeming absurd or like the author is trying too hard. The language is beautiful. Consider this quote: “The deep will be our sibling, our parent, our relief from endless solitude. Down here, we are wrapped up. Down here, we can pretend the dark is the black embrace of another.” The description is wonderful—the reader almost feels the love that the character has for the ocean that is their home. I can’t say enough good things about the writing style. The only thing that was potentially confusing was a change of perspective. Twice, the novel switches to the perspective of a different character, only for a chapter at a time, without any sort of explanation. Solomon eventually gives enough context for the reader to understand, but it is a bit of a jolt at first. Otherwise, what an awesome book.
Recommending similar books is a little difficult because I tend to stray from books like this. However, it does remind me a bit of the Disney movie Finding Nemo. Both take place in the ocean, and the characters have a responsibility to the ones that they love and have to act on it.
I definitely recommend this book. If you are a fantasy person and dig books about mermaids and fantastical creatures, this one is for you. Even if you aren’t someone that likes books like this (like me!), still give this one a chance! Solomon might just pull you into The Deep anyway.