In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.
That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.
Ableist slur (challenged), anxiety, biphobia, drunk driving, hereditary disease, homophobia, sex scene (minor description), sick parent (Huntington’s Disease)
This was the first audiobook that I got with one of my Audible credits and I’m so glad this was my first choice. I loved the narration, the characters, the story, the rep, everything. Absolutely everything about Like Water was amazing.
The audiobook is narrated by Kyla García who’s become one of my favorites. (She also voices Blanca in Blanca & Roja.) I’m also glad that they hired a Spanish-speaker to narrate this book, because it’s set in New Mexico in a town with a large Latine population so it’s important to the story. Like Water is also a story about finding out who you are,
The story follows Vanni through first person narration, but Podos writes in such a way that it still gives a ton of backstory and insight into other character’s feelings. It starts just after Vanni’s high school graduation which is universally a hella confusing time. Trying to find something of a change of scene, Vanni applies for a job as a mermaid performer at a waterpark. There she meets a boy who she tries to hit it off with then ends up taking an interest in his sister instead.
Their relationship is complicated not because they don’t connect, but they’re navigating their lives through difficult times. As I mentioned, Vanni’s just graduated high school and is looking for a way to escape her inescapable town nicknamed La Trampa (the trap). Side note: As someone who made it to university but attends that one in the town I grew up in, I relate to this so hard. Meanwhile, Leigh has been forced to move to this new town and is having trouble dealing with family drama. All of this plays into their relationship. This causes outlashes and hurt feelings at times, but learning to apologize and forgive is another huge part of the story that I appreciate so much.
One of the subplots that I liked the most was how Podos shows Vanni’s father dealing with the progression of his Huntington’s Disease. Although a significant portion of that narrative is Vanni worrying that she’ll go through the same thing one day and eventually live to see her body betray her in the same way, it’s not all about her. It’s about her worry for her father, his own reactions, reconnecting as a family when the trauma of a major illness threatens its stability. It’s a scary time for everyone and gets portrayed wonderfully.
Final Thought: I feel like there are even more things to talk about with this story that I’m forgetting. The book is just so layered that I could probably write an analytical essay on it, but I won’t, don’t worry! Anyway, I totally recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for a contemporary story that’s bitter at times and sweet at others, starring an f/enby couple with explicit representation. Now I’m off to go find copies of Podos’ other stories. Also be sure to check out the playlist I made for Like Water!