Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Oil and Water

from graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith:

Unlike teens in many other cultures, Americans are shy about discussing the ramifications of class. Teens recognize that some of their peers may be significantly better or worse off than themselves, and feel discomfort with the lack of parity. Making the stretch to recognize that, while one acts from one’s own awareness of what is “right”, that action may not hit the mark in others viewpoints can be a bitter pill to swallow. Oil and Water offers the opportunity to see the various sides of this divide, even as it shows in grim and non-hyperbolic detail the environmental and economic devastation caused by BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bill MicKibben organized a group of ten mostly middle class folks to travel to view the damage wreaked by the oil spill.  In Duin and Wheeler’s hands, the spill is far from minimized. But what comes through as clearly is that the sightseers and the locals are not on the same page. It’s not a clash of values so much as it is a clash of mutual understanding of values. There is no right or wrong, in terms of whether the insiders or outsiders have a more accurate view of how things “should be.” BP is definitely the arch villain here, but is it wrong to want to follow your ancestors in the ancient work of small boat fishing? Is it wrong to want to clean up the mess that the oil brought into the lives of wildlife?

A powerful eco-report, Oil and Water also manages to be a report on the gap between classes that isn’t about who has what, but rather about what “having” means to different groups of Americans.

DUIN, Steve & Shannon Wheeler. Oil and Water. illus. by Shannon Wheeler. unpaged. Fantagraphics. Dec. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-60699-492-4. LC number unavailable.  Oil and Water

Adult/High School–In the summer of 2010, a group of Portland, Oregonians, flew to Louisiana to get ground-level experience in the environmental and social-justice problems highlighted by the BP oil spill on the heels of Katrina. The group included variously focused activists, including an environmental scientist, a barista, and a newspaper reporter, as well as the teen offspring of two of the (unrelated) adults. Duin and Wheeler do an accessible and engaging job of showing how the “rescuers” and the locals they met saw and interpreted one another, and the limits of liberal action when individuals jump in before ascertaining history and cultural burdens each side brings to the table. Several unique discoveries are detailed here as well: a sweet and nicely presented love interest developing between the teens; a member of the original party gets separated almost from the start and decides to stay after everyone else returns to Portland; the dichotomy between the locals’ kind words and actions and their real feelings about the outsiders. The crime of the corporate disaster and the governmental mishandling remains at center stage. The large black-and-white images are realistic and create individual characteristics for the cast; its smudged texture is an excellent vehicle for the intrusion of oil on beaches, birds, livelihoods, and prospects for the future. Quick to read, but of lasting weight for readers from either side of the divide.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Francisca:

    I organized the trip and edited the book and it’s wonderful to read such a nice review. Steve, Shannon and I would love to get this book into the hands of Young Adults. Any chance you’d drop me a line so we could chat?

    Regards and Thanks,

    Mike Rosen

  2. Great to see you pick it up for SLJ. I’ve blogged it and recommend it to everyone I can.