Study Guide

Dark Water Youth

By Laura McNeal


I first saw Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero on the corner of one of those Etch A Sketch streets, where Alvarado meets Stage Coach. I was fifteen and he was seventeen, although he told employers he was twenty. (3.1)

We know that age is just a number, but with Pearl it's a little more than that. To her, age helps identify where she is in life—and right now that's smack dab in the middle of the transition from being a teenager to becoming a full-fledged adult.

I didn't know Amiel's name yet, and I fumbled for a way to make a juggling mime sound employable. "This guy I saw at the corner of Stage Coach. You know, where they gather when they want work." (4.33)

As Pearl tries to convince her uncle to hire a guy she's never met and doesn't know anything about, we recognize she's in over her head. It just goes to show how little she knows about the way the world works. You can't go around asking your uncle to hire someone you saw on the side of the road without knowing anything about him.

"It's not his choice of self-expression that I'm worried about," Robby said. "You probably shouldn't flirt with him." (12.7)

Robby warns her to steer clear of Amiel—not because he's dangerous or anything, but Robby doesn't think it's appropriate for her to have a fling with one of the workers. Even though Robby is just two years older than her, he seems much wiser. We can tell Pearl has her head in the clouds, especially when it comes to Amiel.

Everything was perfect until eighth grade. Greenie was an early bloomer, and while I stayed the same shape, skinny as a tree that grew straight up, the layer of fat around Greenie's middle seemed to move up to her breasts. […] By the end of the year, the sort of boys who didn't do their homework began to hover around her locker, never the least interested in me. (13.4)

When Greenie and Pearl were younger, they did everything together. Greenie matured faster than her pal, though, and things got a little awkward. It's just one of those things when you're growing up—sometimes friends reach benchmarks before you, and it's tough to not let it get to you.

"I thank you all for joining us tonight to celebrate mon petit Robby, not petit so longer," Agnès was saying regretfully, and Robby stood up politely and smiled his gray-eyed smile, which finally landed on me. He read my lips well enough to know I either had something to say or was dying of anaphylactic shock. (15.52)

Robby's party highlights his own transition into adulthood—or at least that's what his mom tells everyone. Notice how she says he's no longer little now that he's seventeen. Sure enough, Robby is already mature and knowledgeable in a lot of ways that Pearl and her friends aren't.

"It is always the pity when my husband hires young ones," Agnès said to her windshield and me. "I tell him, non. The young ones, non. Only the married who are having other family here, like brothers and uncles. This one, he is new, non?" (23.1)

Agnès points out how sad it is for young people to work as undocumented day laborers instead of being filled with hope and promise for their bright futures. We'd like to point out how she calls Amiel "young one" even though he's two years older than Pearl. It reminds us just how young the two lovebirds are by adult standards.

"Young people do what they want always," Agnès said, turning briefly to glance at me. She wasn't smiling this time. Instead, she looked a little sad. (23.21)

Hmm… In many ways, Agnès is right when it comes to Pearl. Our leading lady doesn't care much about what she's supposed to do or what she's told to do. In fact, most of the time, she operates under her own set of rules. It should be noted, however, that not all young people in the book act like this.

"Was the interviewer nice?" I went on in a peppy tone. Somehow our roles were upside down, like our old house. Normally, the teenage girl dresses in a sensible skirt and goes to job interviews and the mother asks if the interviewer was nice. (30.9)

As Pearl asks about her mom's job interview, she realizes that their roles are reversed in many ways: Instead of her mom preparing her for interviews and big moments, she does that for her mom. Even though Pearl is young and naïve in some areas (ahem, love), she's also mature in others since she's had to deal with a lot of family drama.

They say that parts of a teenager's brain aren't formed yet. That might have been the problem. I'd like to think that rather than a malignancy of heart. I'm fine, I tried via ESP. I'm fine I'm fineimfineimfine. (48.3)

We wonder whether Pearl actually thinks this or is just using it as an excuse. She's right to point out that teenagers' brains still have some growing to do, but we're not entirely convinced that's the only reason she ran off with Amiel in the first place.

I closed my eyes. This question would lead to other questions, and then they would be so angry, so I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep until I really did fall asleep. I was asleep when we passed the charred rubber tires of a burned motorcycle. (49.28)

When in doubt, pretend. That's Pearl's motto. She doesn't want to deal with answering the firefighter's questions about where she's been, so she fakes sleep to get out of it. This is a classic teenager move: Don't deal with the problem, just avoid it all together and it will go away. Right