A review of Boat Girl by Melanie Neale

Reviewed by Carl Galager

Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass
by Melanie Neale
Beating Windward Press LLC
October 2012, Paperback, 246 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0983825227

Melanie Neale’s book, Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, and Fiberglass, prepares you for an advanced journey into the life of living on a boat through the perspective of the author—covering, youth, love, and her uncanny connection to fiberglass. While the memoir is filled with engaging elements, you do have to consider the fact that it was written later in Melanie’s life, so her recollection and scope of her younger years could be a bit inaccurate, but nonetheless extremely intriguing. The inclusion of vivid imagery and visual elements also aids your perception of the novel. The author, Melanie Neale, wrote Boat Girl to tell the story of living aboard a boat, to share how her life differed from the norm. Melanie’s book has changed my perception of the memoir genre. It was a captivating, in-depth and raw recording of her life, that heavily contrasted to the image her father had created for the family. The inclusion of Melanie’s perspective, visual elements, and conflict throughout the book make it an engaging piece of literary work.

Delving further into the book, with the implied narrator being Melanie, the perspective gives you a comprehensive and intense experience, that dives into her family relations, sexual preferences, struggles and her morals. A memorable point being her dealing with gender unfairness, where standards used to assess men and women were unfair. Moreover, those unfair standards were being enforced upon Melanie by her father, which is shown when he remarks that, “people see you come out of the bushes with Rod and they’ll laugh at you, they’ll call you a slut and it’ll make our whole family look bad” (Neale 77). However, Melanie was a strong-willed person, who was able to point out the unfairness of the situation as, Rod, (the boy who she was with) would not be called a slut, but only encouraged to continue the behavior. Seeing this as unfair, she coined the term “Fighter Slut” (Neale 78), so that she would fight the unfairness of labels placed against women that shamed their behaviors, yet boys were championed by it—sticking to her morals throughout the memoir.

To add to the memoir, Melanie’s uncanny connection to fiberglass provides a unique aspect to the memoir; it made it original and personal. The connection came from the fact that Chez Nous, the boat that she lived on with her family, was made the same year she was born, 1979. The boat Chez Nous was like a sister to her, something that she’d grow to love on a level unlike any other. From the day she was born Melanie was certain how fell about the boat. Melanie knew she “fell in love with the 47’ fiberglass sailboat the day I came aboard from the hospital” (Neale 1).  She continued to share a deep connection with the boat as she aged, she spent most of her life on it, the bond and memories that came from those experiences stayed with her till the end of the memoir.

Moreover, Melanie’s reflection and attitudes towards her situations constitute growth and maturity, changing her perspective of social standards and the world around her. Melanie struggled with her weight as she was younger, as boys she hung out with made fun of her and constantly made remarks about her body such as calling her, “Buffalo Butt” or “Thunder Thighs” (Neale 73). In turn, causing a spiral of low self-esteem and an unhealthy obsession with being skinnier, that stemmed from those events accompanied from when she first started caring about her looks at age eleven. Once she became skinnier, she pondered the thought of, “I wondered if the simple act of getting skinny had made me more socially acceptable” (Neale 85). This enhances her perspective on social standards at a young age, while also showing a struggle that some readers could relate to, showing how some events can connect to readers through real-life experiences, adding to the openness of the memoir.

Reaching the end of the memoir, Melanie reflects on her life, from all the hardships she’s faced to all opportunities presented to her. Without the need to hold back her true thoughts she admits that “when people ask me, now, how I feel about having grown up aboard a boat, I tell them that I am happy and thankful my parents were able to raise my sister and me the way they did” (Neale 232). It shows how she grew and accepted herself wholly, especially considering this memoir’s conclusion; Melanie’s growth and change in mindset carries the reader through her story and helps to complete the reflection of her life.

Additionally, the book has visual elements which aid the reader in picturing or immersing themselves in the story of the book. The inclusion of diagrams of the boats she’s owned or lived on, pictures from growing up and maps of places she’s visited, whether down in the Bahamas or off the east coast of the United States, help you form a mental image of what or who she’s describing and where she is. The uses of vivid descriptions and a wide variety of imagery also aid in the picturing of the memoir’s contents. An example of vivid imagery being used is when Melanie is demonstrating how to kill a conch: “I used one of the cheap steak knives we’d found aboard the charter boat to reach in and cut the muscle, feeling the creature go slack against my thumb which was jammed up inside the lip” (Neale 136). She spares no details when describing tasks she knows how to do, making it easy for others to picture what is happening in the memoir.

Melanie’s memoir was extremely captivating, which was additionally aided by the organization of major or minor parts of her life’s story and the components of the book. This in turn made it hard for me to put the book down while reading. The title was a main part of this, as it pulls you in and gives you the basic ideas of what her life would be like: Melanie’s youth, her relationships and her uncanny connection to fiberglass. Additionally, her stories, adventures, personal experiences, family relations and intimate relations keep you hooked, as they are well organized and reiterated throughout the contents of the memoir, which helps it flow smoothly. The literary work of creative non-fiction is one that I would suggest others read. It is filled with ideas of adventure, conflict, self-discovery, the struggles of navigating the real world and most importantly boats. I do suggest that you keep in mind that this story is not for a younger audience, especially nearing the adolescent and adult chapters of the book.