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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Deadly Waters: Dot Hutchinson, A Review

2.5 stars

The Butterfly Garden is one of my favorite books of the past five years, so I was thrilled to see a new Dot Hutchinson title available on NetGalley.

But this book just did not do it for me.

Centered on a college campus, a group of girls--struggling with the horrific rape and brutalization of one of their best friends--reacts to a string of mysterious attacks. Someone is feeding rapists to alligators (yes, really) and the social order is in upheaval. Lady Gators Snap Back, the headline reads, and as the truth of the exorbitant number of attacks comes to light, the question shifts from who's feeding these bad men to the alligators to what's going to happen next?

Okay. So, right off the bat, I'm not dismissing the subject matter. Sexual assault and rape is a relevant and important topic to explore in literature, and when so often a woman's rape is used as a plot device to further a man's vengeance or downfall, having a female-centric cast explore the stigma and statistics is a good idea. However, the exaggeration here is borderline frustrating. Every woman is in danger. Nobody will believe them anyway so why report it? We can't go out to the bars or for a walk or basically exist without being hit on, pressured, or downright attacked. The writing wants you to believe that women as a whole are in a constant state of fear.

I get it. There is merit to this exaggeration, but every single page is filled with preachy rhetoric and stereotypes I found annoying more than relate-able. Angry girl.. Studious girl. Emotional girl. Levelheaded girl. Sensitive man. Predator. There was no in between. And while there are moments where I found the dialogue fun or interesting or really endorsed the point, it was just SO hard to get into this. Most of the conversations centered around: rape, the prevalence of rape, the victimization of women, how angry women were, how girls tell stories in the bathroom because they're afraid to say them out loud, helplessness, and societal normalization of rape.

The college environment, too, I found strange. Women were victims and men were abusers to the point of being caricatures--and the only one brave enough to take action or do anything about it is an anonymous vigilante using her sexuality as a weapon. I just...really struggled with this. One of the opening lines referenced them being "pretty girls" and implied that sexual assault was just an inherent struggle because of their good looks.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone. I recently read another title that dealt with the same subject much more successfully. What Deadly Waters failed to capture was the nuance, relying solely on preconceived notions, exaggerations, and stereotypes instead of layered characters. This might have been better focused just on Kacey's attack and the fallout as it pertained to her friends.


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