“Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.
Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.”
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
“I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.”
While middle grade is not typically a genre I usually gravitate towards, I have to honestly say that this story warmed my heart. Lauren Wolk, the highly acclaimed author of Wolf Hollow, another middle grade book, delights us with a story about self discovery, adventure and most important of all, family. In Beyond the Bright Sea, we follow the story of Crow, a little girl who happened to wash up on the shores of Cuttyhunk Island tied on a skiff, and was found and saved by Osh, a man who would take care of her as if she were his own daughter. As Crow grows up, and her curiosity in everything that surrounds her increases, she starts questioning not only her own origins, but also something that strikes her as very odd: the fact that Osh and her have lived secluded on their cottage built from materials of shipwrecks away from the other inhabitants of the island, except for Miss Maggie.
The story focuses on Crow’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that she does not know her own history, who her real parents are, or why she was sent away on a skiff all alone when she was only a baby, and her determination to change that. From there, the story unfolds in the journey that Crow sets herself upon in order to discover the truth about her past and about why everyone on the island seem to stay away from her every time they see her. And the truth is soon revealed, when Crow learns that the reason lies behind the fact that the islanders think that she came from Penikese, a former leprosarium nearby, where people were sent to live and, eventually, die. Crow feels her heart shatter at the thought of her possibly being born from lepers and being a leper herself. This is where Wolk does wonders through her storytelling skills. She tackles such hard issues like prejudice against otherness, discrimination by people, who in their own ignorance, let their ungrounded fears take hold of their minds instead of seeking out information about those who are not like them, or so they think. It is their prejudice and fear that Crow is a leper that leads them to ostracize her, even to the point of not letting her get near other children, like when she tries to go to the island school to learn alongside other kids and is turned down due to their schoolmaster’s fear of contagion. Examples like this discrimination that Crow has to endure plague the book, and I think that Lauren creates a very wise contrast of how differently two kinds of people react to when faced with the unknown. While the islanders turn their backs on Crow, even when they are not certain as to whether Crow is a leper or not, Osh and Miss Maggie took Crow into their lives as soon as she appeared on the island, and have been their guardians and her “adoptive” family ever since.
One of the aspects I liked the most about this book was the message underlying the story. The concept of family isn’t a black and white matter in this book, as it shouldn’t be in real life either I think, because for Crow, in this case someone whose ancestors are unknown, Osh and Miss Maggie have been the paternal and maternal images she has ever known. Even though she feels curious about her past and where she comes from, and she seeks out the truth about who her parents were, the entire point of the book is that the sense of belonging to a family does not always come from blood ties, but from those ties one can establish with other people whom one may not be related to by blood. It is those relationships Crow established with Osh and Miss Maggie that makes her understand where is her place in this world, and come to the conclusion that it is by their side.
The story is well-paced, with the action and adventure parts of the story being evenly distributed throughout the entire novel, with certain peaks of mysterious events happening at specific points in the story to further the plotline. I found the whole mystery with the treasure and Mr. Kendall, the fake birdkeeper, to be intriguing, yet not as interesting as the characters’ interactions with each other. It is in those scenes, where we see the dynamic between Crow and the people who love her and whom she loves back, the parts of the book where I found myself enjoying it the most. And even though the ending may come abruptly, with Crow’s search for her brother not coming to a closure -though I do have my suspicions as to whom her brother may be, but that is just a theory of mine-, I think that Wolk’s decision to leave it as an open ending in regards that aspect of the plotline was the right one, since it does nothing but strengthen the message she tried to send, that it is not where we come from or who we come from, but where we are and what we do with who we are that defines us.
Lauren Wolk creates in Beyond the Bright Sea an atmospheric novel set in an isolated island, filled with adventure, mystery and characters that will warm your heart and will stay with you for a long while. I could not recommend this book enough to anyone that wants a fast-paced book about self discovery, with well-rounded characters, and a touch of adventure that will only leave you wanting for more.
* This galley is the first stage of printer’s proofs, which has not been corrected by the author, publisher, or printer. All quotations are based on uncorrected text that may be subject to future change.