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Paperback Book Details
  • 09/2022
  • 9780995287853
  • 316 pages
  • $16.99
Ebook Details
  • 09/2022
  • 9780995287846 B0BCQV2W9C
  • 316 pages
  • $7.99
Joseph Howse
The Girl in the Water
Joseph Howse, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

The Girl in the Water is the story of a multiethnic group of young friends, coming of age in Estonia and Ukraine in the last days of the Soviet Union. Their lives are shaped by an Afghan war, the Chernobyl disaster, and the collapse and legacy of a suffocating society.
The act of becoming, in Howse’s accomplished debut, is set against a vividly evoked collapse, as sisters Nadia and Nastya must discover their place as the world in which they were raised, the Soviet Union of the parents and grandparents, lurches toward its end. Howse brings urgent life to the 1980s era of Gorbachev, of a rumored disaster at what Russians then knew as the Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, and of Russian soldiers like the girls’ friend Johnny, who deserts the failed Afghanistan war, shoves a gun into his mouth and poses questions like “Do you feel, like in a nightmare, that all our suffering is a form of mockery?”

So it goes for this lost generation in Howse’s sweeping novel, an incisive slice of life whose slices are wide-ranging and generously proportioned—even if the lives itself, for those living them, too often feel fraught and small. As Nadia and co. face upheaval but still strive to “to patch a happy ending on a dubious beginning, to make a quilt from rags” and seize those moments when “the wager [of life] seemed a relatively cheerful proposition”—usually with family, friends, a cat named Cosmos, or for pregnant Nastya, the possibilities of a “home-in-the-making” with Girogi, a police detective who volunteers amid the horrors of the Chrernobyl evacuation zone.

Fascinating characters like that populate Howse’s story, though its heart is Nadia, yearning to go to Moscow and college, and enduring disasters, both incidental—a car accident, “blowup”s that occur “on a geographic scale”—and world-shaking. Howse’s novel is dense and detailed but alive with feeling, insight, and Nadia’s stirring, stinging, poetic thoughts. It juxtaposes in-depth, almost reportorial portraiture of a society’s decline with the fresh exuberance of youth, plus the terror and possibility of what might come next, when history itself—Nadia often notes the sites of massacres and tragedies—offers little reason for optimism. Still, Nadia offers reason for hope.

Takeaway: Intimate epic of coming of age as the Soviet Union collapses.

Comparable Titles: Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s The Orchard, Artem Mozgovoy’s Spring in Siberia.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Audrey Davis, Independent Book Review

“A resilient coming-of-age story … The author includes emotional, compelling scenes with every character, as each one has been dealt a vastly different hand of cards. … It feels very down-to-Earth and includes necessary comical moments throughout. I did not know much about the events or places in this book before, but after finishing it and doing a little extra curiosity research, I’m thankful to have learned something new in such an engaging way.”

Benji Allen, Waikato Independent


“a captivating story that sheds light on the complexities of human nature in times of great change … A must-read for anyone interested in the impact of historical events and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.”

BlueInk Review

“Howse excels at drawing textured portraits of multi-faceted women. … The Girl in the Water is a major achievement in a debut novel: a story populated with unforgettable characters who occupy the reader’s mind long after the book is back on the shelf.”

Chloe Clark, Foreword Clarion Reviews


“Intentional and poetic, … the book excels because of its close-up focus on Nadia and her loved ones. Nadia is a lively, sympathetic heroine, and the people around her are engaging in each moment. Her glimpses at the world around her are sensitive and self-aware, and she, her friends, and her family members honor the people who live through difficult times with them. Among their ranks, shy romances bloom into relationships, friendships evolve, and families continue to love one another despite the keen drama around them.”

Chris Reed, NZ Booklovers

“Howse’s prose is wonderfully written. Through the narrative he is able to create realism in the descriptions and authentic moments between people. … Centering on the dialogue, Howse uses language well and is able to present the vocabulary of each of the characters with a sense of authenticity. … [The novel] demonstrates more than just the vivid description of a time in our world’s history where oppressed people overcame incredible obstacles. It also celebrates life, and all that is to be gained through the experiences of togetherness and connection.”

Kirkus Reviews

“OUR VERDICT: GET IT … Nadia’s journey is a memorable one. She comes of age in places as diverse as Estonia and Ukraine, which, while beset by Soviet malaise, abound with colorful characters.”

LoveReading Ambassador

“A coming of age narrative held against the backdrop of the last days of the Soviet Union … This setting and context of the book feels authentic and it is clear that a lot of research has been carried out in order to add dimension to the story. The sense of change in the setting reflects the coming-of-age themes in the characters’ narratives. … I think that this book would appeal to those interested in character driven family dramas and relationship stories, and may appeal to those interested in modern Eastern European history.”

Midwest Book Review

“Of special appeal to fans of coming-of-age and family life novels, laced with humor, memorable characters, and an inherently interesting, narrative driven, storyline, ‘The Girl in the Water’ is unreservedly recommended as an addition to personal reading lists and community library Contemporary General Fiction collections.”

Nicky Walker, Radio New Zealand Nine To Noon

“[The characters’] caring for one another and the people around them in need was quite lovely. Those values of family and support remain strong even in quite a bleak time.”

Rob Errera, IndieReader


“Joseph Howse evokes the literary styles of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in THE GIRL IN THE WATER, a sprawling, complex and compelling tale of a young Ukrainian girl in the late 1980s at a personal and cultural crossroads. … Howse’s novel feels Russian, from its ornate structure to its social commentary to its wry humor. The author has composed a book like Tchaikovsky would a symphony; tight, disciplined, yet bubbling with unspoken passion and near-magical allegory.”

Distinguished Favorite in the 2023 NYC Big Book Award for Literary Fiction

The Girl in the Water is a Distinguished Favorite in the 2023 NYC Big Book Award, among other fine books in the “Literary Fiction” category!

Finalist in the 17th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards for New Fiction

The Girl in the Water is a finalist in the 17th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards, among other fine books in the “New Fiction” category!

Finalist in the 2022 Foreword INDIES Awards for Multicultural Fiction

The Girl in the Water is a finalist in the 2022 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, among other fine books in the “Multicultural (Adult Fiction)” category!

Finalist in the 2023 Eyelands Book Awards

The Girl in the Water is a finalist in the 2023 Eyelands Book Awards! Winners will be announced on December 30, 2023.

Outstanding Book in the 2023 IAN Awards for Multicultural Fiction

The judges of the 2023 IAN Book of the Year Awards have selected The Girl in the Water as the Outstanding Multicultural Fiction category winner and as a finalist in the Literary Fiction category!

Winner of the 2023 Independent Press Award for Literary Fiction

The Girl in the Water has won the 2023 Independent Press Award as the best book in the “Literary Fiction” category!

Winner of the 2023 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Best Regional Ebook (Fiction)

The Girl in the Water has won the 2023 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal in the “Best Regional Ebook (Fiction)” category!

Paperback Book Details
  • 09/2022
  • 9780995287853
  • 316 pages
  • $16.99
Ebook Details
  • 09/2022
  • 9780995287846 B0BCQV2W9C
  • 316 pages
  • $7.99