There is a certain kind of friendship that is wordless, fleeting, transient, yet deep and memorable at the same time. I like to call these “subway friendships.”
If you’ve ever taken a ride on the public transit system of any major urban area, and have done so without having earbuds plugged into your ear or your head buried in a book or in your phone, you have undoubtedly made one or more of these friendships in your lifetime. The pattern is simple: you notice something funny, or interesting, or slightly unique happening on the subway or bus or streetcar, and smile; you quickly realize that someone else in a seat across the way has noticed it too, and you both make the brief eye contact of mutual recognition. Your subway friendship has begun.
In the best of these friendships, you both continue to notice odd or quirky or fascinating things, and you both look to each other each time to see if the other has noticed as well. If she hasn’t, you nod in the direction of the diversion, and she smiles back in thanks. After a few stops, her stop arrives, and you both exchange a quick glance before she exits the doors; it is a recognition of the wordless, fleeting friendship you shared for a few short minutes of the day, but that will linger on for a few more minutes still, if not hours.
Pool, a gorgeously-illustrated book about two shy children who meet at a swimming pool and escape the hubbub of the crowd around them, is basically the story of such a subway friendship, but the setting is instead underwater.
Like a subway friendship, there are no words in the book, but instead a series of adventures and explorations told through JiHyeon Lee’s stunning illustrations. We are encouraged to cherish the silence as we travel through a surreal underwater world with the two new friends, discovering plants and creatures, and enjoying the whimsy that comes from the imagination of children. It is this silence that makes the book so powerful, so resonant: words do not need to be exchanged for the friendship to be forged, and for the exploration to occur.
The underwater friendship in JiHyeon Lee’s Pool captures the best part of a subway friendship: it is fleeting and wordless, but it reminds you that connections can be made anywhere and at any time, and that it is those connections, short-lived as they may be, that bring whimsy and color to our days.