67 pages 2 hours read

Watt Key

Deep Water

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


The middle grade survival novel Deep Water by Watt Key (Albert Watkins Key Jr.) follows 12-year-old Julie Sims as she attempts to survive after a scuba dive goes wrong. The novel’s events are inspired by an experience in the author’s life. While diving in the Gulf of Mexico, Key and a friend went to make their ascent, only to find that the rope had detached from the boat. When they surfaced, their boat was nowhere in sight, but thankfully, a fisherman passed by after 15 minutes and spotted Key waving his speargun. As the inspiration for Deep Water, Key imagines what might have happened if they fisherman had not rescued them. The novel explores themes such as Resilience and Discipline, The Unyielding Force of Nature, and Family Relationships. Deep Water was published in 2018, and it is one of Watt Key’s many adventure novels. This guide refers to the 2019 print edition.

Plot Summary

Julie Sims returns to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to visit her dad and help with his diving charter business for the summer. Her parents are divorced, so she lives with her mom in Atlanta during the school year but spends summers with her father. Shortly after she arrives, Julie and her dad take two wealthy clients out on an exclusive dive. Julie’s father, Gibson Sims, recently discovered the coordinates for an artificial reef on two abandoned army tanks called the Malzon tanks. Since Mr. Sims is the only one who knows their location, he can charge a high price and offer his clients an untouched reef to explore. Their clients today, however, are the Jordans: a greedy and argumentative father-son duo more concerned with catching fish than with taking safety precautions. Julie does not like dealing with Shane and Hank Jordan’s attitudes but knows the money they are paying for the dive will help her father’s dive business stay afloat.

Today, conditions for the dive are less than ideal. Julie’s father, who is diabetic, does not feel good enough to make the dive, so Julie will be the one to guide Hank Jordan and his son Shane. Additionally, the current on the surface is strong; although it might be calmer at the bottom, Julies notes there is no way to know conditions in the depths until making the descent. In addition to her father’s health and the strong current, Julie cannot shake the feeling that this trip is both rushed and thrown together.

During the dive, the Jordans separate from Julie, ignoring the rule that divers stay together. As soon as Julie reaches bottom, she sees the anchor precariously perched on one of the tanks. If the anchor pulls, the current will pull her father’s boat, the Barbie Doll, away from the dive sight and will remove the divers’ guide for making a controlled ascent. As Julie considers options to solve the problem, she realizes the only course of action is to finish the dive and hope the anchor holds. When her bottom time is up, Julie fights against the current to return to the anchor. Upon returning, however, she finds the anchor is gone. As she makes her ascent, she must make stops to allow her body to release pressure and keep from developing the bends, or decompression sickness, a diving disorder that can occur when a person transitions from deep, high-pressure waters too quickly. As she ascends, Julie knows she is drifting farther from the dive site, and when she reaches the surface, her father’s boat is nowhere to be seen.

Shane eventually surfaces and starts to panic. Julie must calm him and make him as buoyant as possible against his protests. Mr. Jordan also surfaces, but he is bent, and his nose is bleeding. For the next several hours, Julie becomes the leader of the trio. She takes charge to stop Mr. Jordan’s bleeding, make their group as visible as possible, and determine about how far they are from the dive site. Shane is little help, and keeping Mr. Jordan afloat adds extra work for Julie. As they endure sunburn, sea-lice bites, thirst, and an intense lightning storm, Julie wonders what happened to her father’s boat. She also recalls memories with her parents and wishes they had stayed together.

The next morning, they pass the point at which the green Gulf waters meet the deep blue waters of open ocean. Shortly after, three sharks begin circling beneath them. When a shark comes toward Mr. Jordan, Julie and Shane do their best to kick the shark and stay together, but Mr. Jordan panics and starts to struggle from their grasp. He creates splashing, which Julie knows attracts sharks. Mr. Jordan also pulls out his dive knife and begins stabbing wildly. Julie sees that he is putting them all in danger—he could easily stab their buoyancy vests, and he is attracting the sharks. She pulls Shane away, and Mr. Jordan starts to sink. Unable to help him, Julie and Shane must swim away to save themselves.

Another day and night passes, and Shane and Julie start to put aside their differences and open up to each other. They each share personal family struggles, and Shane is nicer and more helpful. They also begin to feel the effects of hypothermia. In the dawn light, Shane notices a red blinking light on the horizon. Neither of them knows what it could be, but it gives them hope. They start swimming toward it, hoping the current will allow them to intersect it. As they get closer to the light, Julie realizes it is coming from an oil rig. However, Shane starts hallucinating from hypothermia and can no longer kick toward the rig. Julie pulls them close to the rig, but she does not have the strength to reach it. Just when she resigns herself to death, she feels a mooring line. She ties Shane to the line and pulls herself to the rig. With much effort and pain due to the sharp barnacles on the rig, Julie makes it out of the water and boards the rig. With bleeding gashes on her hands, she lifts Shane onto the rig using a manually cranked winch. Before she allows herself to rest, she finds blankets and water bottles in a lifeboat. She gets Shane as comfortable as possible, uses a first-aid kit to clean and wrap her hands, and then falls asleep.

Shane gradually grows stronger, and over the next several days he and Julie explore the abandoned rig. They find a few usable supplies like fishing equipment, beds, one working lantern, and a few food items. They catch and eat raw fish on a few occasions but worry about their food supply as weeks pass with no way of calling for help. After three weeks, Shane starts coughing and loses strength, and before long, Julie follows suit. She realizes they have been breathing mold while sleeping inside the rig. They move their mattresses to one of the decks.

Just when Julie and Shane feel like they have a decent tent, system for collecting rainwater, and means of catching fish, a powerful storm washes away all their supplies. As they hit rock bottom, Shane has an idea: if they break the red light on the rig, someone will come along to fix it, since the light must stay lit as a safety policy. Although Shane is weak, he knows he must attempt to break the light immediately. He climbs a high platform and successfully breaks the light, but he falls from 20 feet up while descending. He is alive and conscious, but Julie knows his condition is critical; she is terrified he will die and leave her to eventually die alone on the rig. Because he cannot move, Julie must go to the top of the rig—a helipad—to see if help will arrive. Before long, a helicopter lands and airlifts Julie and Shane to Alabama.

Julie reunites with her parents, who have decided to give their marriage another try. She learns that her father’s boat drifted away after he went into a diabetic coma while the dive team was underwater; he was found and rescued by a fisherman. After several days, she visits Shane in the hospital; he is expected to make a full recovery, and the two plan to stay in contact as friends. Julie’s father is ready to give up his diving business if that is what it takes to keep Julie and her mom, but Julie reassures her dad that she does not want him to quit something that he loves. With her family reunited, Julie realizes her parents were her reason for surviving all along.

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