The Kayak

What If? Magazine, Winter 2010

Everyone has that one place, that one song, that one thing that lifts us off our feet, carries us away from all worries, and frees our mind. For Teresa, it is kayaking.

Through Kayak, Debbie Spring brings us a compelling story of a teenage girl with inspiring will, strength, and courage. An accident leaves Teresa confined to a wheelchair, feeling hopeless and isolated. On the ground, that is. In the midst of wanting independence and struggling to break free from her parents' overprotective guard, she finds escape when kayaking during her trips to Georgian Bay. Suddenly, the world shifts and she feels free to be who she is; with no one standing by her side, the water carries her forward.

On one other trips, Teresa saves the life of a windsurfer and suddenly finds herself facing and overcoming all her insecurities as their relationship grows. Yet, soon, a new stranger comes into the picture and Teresa is faced with decisions that trace back to her painful past.

Although Kayak contains an inspiring plotline, I found the writing quite simplistic. It was hard to relate to a few of the characters because of the quick speed of events and the romance concept seemed quite rushed and unrealistic.

Yet, the concept of self-discovery and the will to keep moving forward made me appreciate and enjoy this novel. Teresa's character demonstrates the ability to grow, discover more about yourself, and face all insecurities in the worst of times. Overall, it was a sweet and inspiring read and I would recommend it to pre-teen girls. — Lyubov Kushtova

A Teacher's Thoughts, Chapters.Indigo.ca, April 2010
If I could recommend only one book for pre-teen girls, it would be The Kayak.

Step aside Gossip Girl — there's a new heroine in the literary world. Teresa is the kind of girl I wanted to become: independent, creative, thoughtful and funny. Teresa is paralyzed from the waist down, but this girl is no victim. She rescues — both physically and emotionally — many of the secondary characters in this novel.

The plot is a romantic coming-of-age story, dealing with many of the issues faced by pre-adolescent girls today. Teresa's conflicted feelings are clearly expressed through Spring's skillful prose. Foreshadowing for the plot twists is expertly handled; under Spring's pen, the love triangle story becomes fresh and fun. Emotions run high, but Teresa's self-respect keeps physical contact limited to kisses.

The setting is as compelling as the plot and characters. Spring's love for the Georgian Bay area shows clearly through every stroke of Teresa's paddle. Kayak adventures, swimming in the lake, nighttime campfires and horseback riding anchor this book in the idyllic world of summer vacation.

I look forward to recommending this book to all my students. Ultimately, this book leaves a reader entertained and intrigued. Its thought-provoking treatment of handicapped people will stay with readers even after the last page is turned. The Kayak will not disappoint. — Amanda Darling

Resource Links, Volume 15, Number 5, June 2010
This novel, which began life as short story, neatly addresses teenage angst, the benefits of team sports, physical disability, and whether or not we are our brother’s keeper, all in one handy little volume.

The story begins with high school student Teresa kayaking on Georgian Bay during a summer holiday. She notices a young wind surfer in trouble and manages to rescue him. When they get to shore, he realizes she can’t walk but it not deterred and invites her to a bonfire. There is a jealous ex-girlfriend and then a caring but too intense second boyfriend and a little sister too.

However, though this entire seemingly formulaic configuration, the character of Teresa shows itself to be infinitely human and believably self-possessed. The kayak is her refuge and source of strength because she is competent in her kayak and she just feels good when she is paddling. Teresa is capable of small revenge on shore, but she is neither mean nor petty. She tries to be a good sister and she succeeds.

As a portrait of modern youth, Teresa is spot on the money, not because the author has made her handicapped but because she is just a bit cynical, secretly hopeful, and reluctant to try new things but not completely put off by them. She is also in the process of recovering from the hit and run accident that left her in a wheel chair. Her adventures with handicapped riding and wheelchair basketball are well portrayed and actually informative in their description.

Most importantly, this novel is an affirmation of life in the face of unforeseen obstacles and demonstrates how easily everything can change. How much worse or better it become is up to the individual. — Lesley Little

Thematic Links: Overcoming Handicaps
Rating: E (Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!)