Review of Beyond the Bright Sea

Beyond the Bright Sea
by Lauren Wolk
Intermediate, Middle School    Dutton    293 pp.
5/17    978-1-101-99485-6    $16.99

Crow lives on a tiny island in the Elizabeth Islands off Cape Cod with her adoptive father, Osh. He and Miss Maggie, who lives on nearby Cuttyhunk, are her only companions, as other locals shun her. But Crow wasn’t born on Osh’s island; she washed ashore there twelve years earlier in 1913, a newborn baby alone in a skiff. She has always wondered about her origins, but not until she sees a fire ablaze on Penikese, an uninhabited island that once housed a leper colony, does an overwhelming “tide of curiosity” about her origins rise within her. Who were her birth parents? Why did they send her away? Were they lepers? What did they name her? She doesn’t expect her questions to lead her and those she loves into the fearful danger that ensues. Wolk writes of her characters with the same precise, poetic nuance with which she describes Crow’s beloved island and “the lyrics of the sea.” Here, place forms character, just as human relationships do, and while Crow’s adventures are a dramatic mix of buried treasure, deadly storms, and murderous pursuit, the heart of this story is the precisely observed, quietly realized evocation of clamming and lobstering and gardening; of the love and self-knowledge that come through mutual care. This is an exceptional mix of historical fiction, physical adventure, and interiority, a novel in which suspense, insight, and the natural world play equal, vital parts. An author’s note provides more information about the history of these Massachusetts islands and the 1905–1921 Penikese leper hospital.

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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