If I ever think that it might be fun to be a teenager again, Georgia Underwater by Heather Sellers will cure me of that misapprehension immediately. Granted, Georgia Jackson, the young protagonist of the majority of stories in this lovingly conceived and sensitively executed collection, has a few more issues to deal with than does the average American teenager, but her struggles with family, identity and burgeoning sexuality bear witness to the insecurities that most teens face regardless of background. And, come to think of it, to the insecurities that many adults experience as well. We want to believe that our world makes sense. We want to believe that everything will (somehow, magically, despite all evidence to the contrary) work out in the end. We want to trust in the people and institutions that hold sway over our lives, but sometimes we need to realize that we can’t. Throughout Georgia Underwater, the protagonist’s journey takes her one cautious step at a time toward this realization.
One of the most frustrating elements of Georgia Jackson’s life is her relationship with her parents. Her father is an alcoholic, and her mother suffers from crippling bouts of paranoia. Lacking guidance of any kind, Georgia must learn to navigate the dangerous waters of adolescence on her own, and she does so with the kind of awkward grace and aplomb that only a young girl growing up in Florida can muster. She dreams about boys. She wonders what sex must be like. She wishes her parents would behave like normal adults. She wonders about sex some more. Through it all, she endears herself to the reader — to the point where it’s hard for those among us who are blessed with stable families and relatively “normal” lives to feel anything but pity for the girl. She wants so badly to belong somewhere, to fit in, to be loved (by her parents, by her brother, by boys, by anyone), to be something other than invisible, that one is hard pressed to ignore her.
Part Running with Scissors, part Catcher in the Rye, and completely engrossing, this collection of stories will charm even the most cynical reader. Set against a backdrop of highways and housing developments in the shadow of Disney World, Georgia Underwater speaks to the heart and paints the life of a lonely young girl in the vivid, glowing pink and purple detail of an Orlando sunset.
For more information on Heather Sellers and to order a copy of Georgia Underwater, visit HeatherSellers.com.