Review of When the Sea Turned to Silver

lin_when-the-sea-turned-to-silverstar2 When the Sea Turned to Silver
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    373 pp.
10/16    978-0-316-12592-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-31769-6    $9.99

In this companion to Lin’s Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (rev. 9/09) and Starry River of the Sky (rev. 11/12), young Pinmei goes in search of a Luminous Stone, hoping to give it to the emperor in exchange for her grandmother, whom he has kidnapped and imprisoned. Alternating chapters follow both Pinmei and her amah, a renowned storyteller. As in the previous books, legends are interspersed throughout, here retold by Amah, to her stonecutter cellmate, and also by Pinmei, to those she meets on her journey. Included sporadically are the struggles of the Black Tortoise of Winter, whose survival affects all of humanity. On its own, this third volume contains a richly complex adventure story that revisits previous themes (greed, honesty, forgiveness) and features numerous clever connections between the characters in the novel and those in the interior tales. The three books together, however, offer one grand epic that spans generations, with characters who are re-introduced with different names and appearances but with nuanced clues to their identities. Objects (a multicolored jacket, a jade bracelet, a rice bowl) passed down within families also connect the books’ stories, offering their own hints at ties between people. Once again, the handsome book design — gorgeous cover art, thoughtfully chosen type, compact trim size, and vivid full-page full-color illustrations — is a perfect match for the story. Lin’s stonecutter claims that storytellers “can make time disappear…bring us to places we have never dreamed of…feel sorrow and joy and peace”; the description is a fitting one for author-illustrator Lin herself, who has proven herself a master.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from Simmons University.

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