The Darkness Under The Water


Beth Kanell has crafted a multi-textured novel dealing with self-discovery, Vermont history, and the Abenaki people. It is the story of Molly Ballou, an Abenaki teen trying with her family to fit into her Vermont community in the 1920s. Molly is faced with discrimination and is haunted by the ghostly presence of her drowned sister, Gratia. She is torn between a life of movies and parties with her school friends and the traditional Abenaki ways introduced to her by her friend, Henry. Kanell melded together family stories, a neighbor’s stories of his Abenaki heritage, and the history of her own town to create The Darkness under the Water.

Unfortunately, some Abenaki people have been disappointed with the novel’s historical accuracy. Judy Dow, an Abenaki living in Vermont, and Dorothy Seale, a Native American also of Abenaki heritage, have written a scathing essay on the book’s accuracy. Among their issues they state that Molly’s family would not have been the targets of the Vermont Eugenics Survey because they were trying hard to assimilate into the Vermont community, but rather that her friend Henry Laporte, a traditional Abenaki boy, would have been a target.

In spite of these discrepancies, The Darkness under the Water is an enjoyable tale with relatable coming-of-age issues and which can facilitate discussions of this awkward period in Vermont’s history. Ages 12 and up.


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