Summary: The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn
Maudie is a sweet, autistic girl spending the summer with her dad. When her dad’s home is razed in a California wildfire, they move to the small beach town where her father grew up. Throughout the summer, as Maudie makes new friends, starts learning to surf, and enters a surfing contest, a secret tugs at her–one her mother has asked her to keep from her dad.
I loved this book. Maudie’s voice is quiet but riveting. The beach setting is super atmospheric, and all the characters are so well drawn they feel like real people. Throughout the story, readers see glimpses of Maudie’s life with her mom and stepdad, and readers quickly realize that Maudie is being physically and verbally abused. The author writes very gently about the abuse, and nothing is horrifically traumatic, even for younger readers.
In the beach town, readers will breathe a sigh of relief for Maudie as she befriends other kids and adults in the community. There’s Paddi, who’s around her age and attends a great school that has considerations for kids with sensory issues like Maudie’s. She also has older kids in the community, like Begonia and Max looking out for her. It just warmed my heart for Maudie to have that after being in such a tough environment. I also enjoyed seeing the mentor/mentee relationship develop between Maudie and Etta, who teaches her to surf.
I loved the father-daughter relationship in this story. While Maudie’s mom is neglectful and allows her stepfather to abuse her physically, her father is gentle, even when he’s under stress. This story showcases Pla’s personal insight into living on the autism spectrum. There are many details about stims, how autistic people have to adapt to a neurotypical world, sensory issues, and the like.
Overall: The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn
The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn is a vivid, triumphant, and authentic coming-of-age story about discovering one’s inner strength. Maudie shows impressive character growth as she grows from being called “Mouse” and a “weak gazelle” to being her brave self. Despite tackling serious issues like physical abuse and autism acceptance, this story feels infused with the lightness of summer as a girl discovers that she’s braver than she ever thought.