Andrews McMeel Publishing was kind enough to provide with a digital ARC via NetGalley of Courtney Peppernell’s upcoming title, Watering the Soul, in exchange for an honest review. I had some high hopes for this book, considering the way I just gushed about another Andrews McMeel author, but found myself a bit let down. Still, Watering the Soul is almost great, and here’s why.
I’ll start with the good parts. The actual concept of the book is brilliant: poetry and prose masquerading as a self-help book disguised an instruction manual. Each section (or “Step”) is well-themed and cohesive, and each begins with a delightful illustration by Melbourne-based Justin Estcourt (some shown below). These drawings are what show the “story” of the book—a magical forest creature (apparently named Sprout, although this is never mentioned) shows the reader the process of growing a seed into a soul.
Peppernell’s prose is relaxing and vivid all at once, depicting slices of a woman healing from some unknown hurt that is just vague enough for pretty much anyone to relate to. Unfortunately, I found a lot of the poetry to be a little bit boring. I’ve previously stated that I tend to be wary of “Instapoetry,” but social media happens to be Peppernell’s biggest audience. There’s a stereotype in which authors randomly chop up sentences into short lines for no evident reason, and several of the poems here fit the bill exactly. Here’s an example that I randomly turned to:
I just want to take your hand in mine, let you know that everything is going to be okay. That even if you feel scared, alone, uncertain- there are still moments to be had and dreams to be lived. (p. 47)
To me this accomplishes nothing, but of course the style does have its fans. Admittedly I am not familiar with any of Peppernell’s previous work, which I presume most other readers would be before buying this collection—likely as one of her 150,000 Instagram followers. This is particularly strange to me though, because at the time that I write this review, most of the work that she’s shared online recently is in the form of prose, not “random chopped up lines.” I must be missing something here…
Even though her prose is where Peppernell shines most, it is not entirely without fault either and sometimes seems meaningless. Let’s take a short story titled “The Swing” as an example (note that most writings in this book are not given names). We have our narrator talking to “Life,” who is slowly constructing a swing. The narrator is impatient, but Life insists that they must take their time. Eventfully the swing is built and the narrator is happy—the moral being that “if we are not patient, then we will not be able to fly” (p. 166). But the narrator does point out that “Surely it does not take this long to build a swing,” and Life gives no explanation as to the dangers of rushing. I felt cheated out of a satisfying conclusion to this story, because the reader has to just accept that Life is correct. I suppose that could be the point, though.
Overall, Watering the Soul is by no means bad, it’s just… not something I would spend money on for myself. Perhaps as gift, though. It conveys a beautiful and unique sentiment that seems to be targeted to young people growing up and making major life changes—young people who are doing just that, watering their souls.
Watering the Soul will be available as a paperback on August 17, 2021.