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High Dive

Review

High Dive

Before her father’s sudden death three years ago, Arden Vogel would look forward to her family’s annual vacations to Sardinia. There, the cabin by the sea was the only place she felt truly at home, as she enjoyed the sunny weather and delicious local food. Now, Arden, a college student, is traveling there alone for the first time --- not for a holiday, but to sell the cabin for her mother, an army nurse recently deployed to Iraq. Arden isn’t looking forward to going to Sardinia, but she doesn’t want to add to her mother’s concerns by telling her through their email and telephone correspondence.

Growing up, Arden’s life always revolved around her mother’s military career, so moving often to new places and meeting new people wasn’t too difficult for her. However, now with her family incomplete and separated from each other, along with her growing concern for her mother’s safety, Arden’s understated feeling of loneliness is stronger than before.

On her flight to Germany (the last place the Vogel family lived together), Arden befriends three Texan girls --- Katie, Madison and Lola --- who are going on a European adventure. When Katie invites Arden to join them in Paris, Arden, though hesitant at first, jumps at the chance to delay arriving at her inevitable destination and have some fun like any normal girl would want.

However, Paris isn’t exactly what she remembers (from a family visit nine years before) or hopes for. For the responsible-natured Arden, having fun isn’t that easy, especially when one thing after another seems to go wrong, and her hard-earned Euros start to dwindle. However, there are some funny moments, such as the group’s visit to an authentic French café.

When the girls visit Florence, Italy, Arden feels relieved and enjoys visiting the historic city, which includes seeing, as Madison says, the “most beautiful man in all the world.” Throughout her visits to Italy and Paris, events, people and emails remind Arden of moments she spent with her once-complete family and friends, including her long-distance friendship with her crush Peter, and she wonders what he really thinks of her.

The girls’ Italian experience seems just about perfect. However, when an extremely awkward dilemma arises, Arden’s insecurity returns, making her wonder whether she has made the right decision(s). Arden realizes that she isn’t the only one dealing with difficult issues and how strangely alike the unlikely traveling companions are.

When I began reading HIGH DIVE, I wasn’t sure how subplots of living in the military during the Iraq War, grieving over the death of a family member and a European holiday of self-discovery were going to play out. Would one storyline overpower the other? Would it be depressing or hopeful? I was pleasantly surprised and found myself (literally) unable to put this book down. I even related to a couple aspects of Arden’s story (family and friends in the military, as well as wishing that the exchange rate wasn’t so high so I could travel abroad frivolously).

Tammar Stein’s descriptive imagery, the characters’ realistic conflicting emotions and dialogue, as well as the almost-subtle integration of current (sometimes hot-button) topics, drive the story along. Although not quite perfect, like the girls’ European adventure, HIGH DIVE is undoubtedly one of the best contemporary fiction novels I’ve read this year.

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Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle on October 18, 2011

High Dive
by Tammar Stein

  • Publication Date: June 10, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375830243
  • ISBN-13: 9780375830242