Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea. I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide. It was Osh who found me and took me in....The island where we found each other was small but strong....we didn't need anything else. Not in the beginning....And then, one night when I was twelve....I decided on my own that it was time to find out where I'd come from and why I'd been sent away."
And so Crow introduces us to her story, how she'd mysteriously washed up on the shore of an isolated barrier island off the coast of Massachusets in the early 1920's as a newborn, and found by that island's sole inhabitant, a man she calls Osh. Osh raised her with the help of Miss Maggie, who lives on a neighboring island, and they were content with their unconventional family and simple life in relative isolation. That is, until the day Crow begins to feel the need to know where she came from and why she was put adrift in the sea, and is drawn to nearby island, formerly a leper's colony, in search of answers. Her search sets off a series of events and an adventure she could never have anticipated.
This is a beautiful story that explores the meaning of love and family and the joys of a simple life, but also includes mystery, adventure, and pirate's treasure; told in a poetic, lyrical 1st person narrative. The voice is so calm and the pace unhurried, that it at first seems deceptively simple, but as the author skillfully weaves the story, it becomes more complex and turns from a touching story of a lost soul finding an abandoned baby who helps him regain his humanity to a mystery ending in a treasure hunt. We also get a glimpse of the fierce independence and self-sufficiency of those living on the islands. Crow's character is well-developed, but we really only see a part of who Osh is, as he is very private about his identity and past, though he alludes to leaving his old life to avoid persecution and conflict and that it is just too painful to think or talk about, rather than being a secret.
The author's notes at the end tell a little bit about what inspired her to write this story, and some of the real history of the Elizabeth Islands.
Lauren Wolk is also the author of Wolf Hollow, which was a 2017 Newbery honor book. Personally, I enjoyed Beyond the Bright Sea much more. It's hard to say if it's actually better, or if I just preferred the more hopeful mood and sense of adventure, whereas Wolf Hollow was much darker with a rather bleak ending. I think this book may possibly get a Newbery nod as well, but then again, the awards committees and I never seem to be on the same wavelength. I would recommend this book to readers who like a little bit of everything in their stories, and who appreciate characters taking an emotional journey of self-discovery, as well as going on actual journeys of adventure. Readers who, like me, enjoyed Wolf Hollow but felt cheated by the ending, will find this book much more satisfying.
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