Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, May 2, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Abandonment, Orphan, Identity, Family, Love, Elizabeth Islands, Sea

Prologue Opening: “My name is Crow. 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. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom.”

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Set adrift in 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. Even though Miss Maggie sent telegraphs to the other Elisabeth Islands asking if anyone was looking for a new-born, there were no responses. The rest of the islanders are afraid Crow was born on Penikese Island, which housed a colony of lepers. They keep their distance and won’t allow her to attend school with their children.

Crow feels a connection to Penikese and knows in her heart the island is part of her history. One night she spots a mysterious fire burning across the water on Penikese. She convinces Osh and Miss Maggie to take her there. Little does Crow know her quest will lead her down a path of self-discovery, danger and a villain who thinks she has something he wants.

Why I recommend this book:

Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Sea is a brilliantly crafted novel that is mysterious, breathtaking and heartbreaking. It is set in 1925 on the tiny island of Cuttyhunk where Osh and Crow experience an unlikely new beginning together. The untamed beauty of the sea and island becomes a powerful character that weaves their lives together. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery create an extraordinary experience for readers.  

The characters are complex and memorable. Crow is a determined, curious and resilient girl. Her greatest gift is her intuition which nudges her to piece together the puzzle that reveals her own history. It is a joy to experience the story narrative through her innocent, yet wise character. Osh is a quiet and kind-hearted man with secrets of his own. He leaves a world at war behind him to live alone on Cuttyhunk. Crow’s unexpected arrival by sea changes Osh’s solitary life and he becomes a caring and protective father. Crow grows up happy and safe with Osh teaching her everything she needs to know about the ocean, the moon, the tides and the weather. Miss Maggie is outspoken with a voice like thunder and a heart that embraces Crow with grand-motherly affection. She schools Crow since she isn’t permitted to attend classes with the locals. Miss Maggie is the only one on the island who isn’t afraid of Crow. Both Osh and Miss Maggie support Crow’s journey to uncover her past.

The plot is courageous, gripping, and dangerous. Wolk’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. There are secrets, unexpected surprises and some harrowing moments for all the characters. Crow learns that family is about the people who care about you no matter what. Wolk nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet and author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hollow, described by The New York Times Book Review as “full of grace and stark, brutal beauty.” She is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in English Literature.  She lives on Cape Cod. Visit Wolk at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow 61UonXDCtXL__SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Wolf Hollow

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Bullying, Mean girls, Lies, Courage, Family relationships, Community, Tolerance

Awards: Newbery Honor Book, NPR Best Book, Booklist Best Book, Kirkus Reviews Best Book, School Library Journal Best Book

Prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.  I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears — things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.”

Synopsis: It is 1943. Eleven-year-old Annabelle McBride lives on a farm in a small, western Pennsylvania town, with her parents, two brothers, grandparents and Aunt Lily.  Annabelle leads a quiet, ordinary and carefree life, going to school everyday, doing her farm chores, supervising her younger brothers, and helping her mother cook meals in the kitchen. Then one fall morning a very mean-spirited girl named Betty Glengarry moves to Wolf Hollow and changes everything for Annabelle and the community. Betty is cruel and manipulative and easily spots the victims of her bullying through their weaknesses. For Annabelle, Betty threatens to harm her brothers if she doesn’t comply with her demands. Annabelle suffers many beatings on the path to school, until a quiet WW I veteran, Toby intervenes. Betty turns her vengeance on the kind-hearted recluse, and Toby becomes a target of her heartless and ruthless attacks. There are other victims too. As tensions mount, Annabelle’s goodness is her inner strength to do what is right.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk’s debut novel, Wolf Hollow, is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and beautiful. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined that they create an extraordinary experience for readers. One that you will remember for a long time. You learn about Wolf Hollow and its history of capturing and killing wolves. You feel the silence as you walk the path with Annabelle and ponder its darkness. You experience an extended family living under one roof preparing meals together, canning peaches and baking fresh bread in the oven. And you see contradictions in people who are frightening and neighbors who spread gossip at lightening speed.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core. She is resilient and courageous. I loved experiencing the story narrative through her innocent and wise character.  She learns how to lie to protects others. Betty Glengarry is vicious and cruel. She knows how to use her charm to manipulate an entire community. Annabelle, who knows Betty’s contradictions, wants her to leave. I want her gone. Yet, as a reader I hope for her redemption and wonder about her vulnerabilities.  What made her so ruthless that she could break a quail’s neck, throw a rock and blind another student, string wire across the road to hurt Annabelle’s brother, and falsely accuse Toby of throwing her in a well?  Was she bullied herself? Even though she’s a bad apple, you worry for her safety. Toby is my favorite character. He’s a gentle man who goes to war, struggles with the atrocities he’s seen, becomes a recluse and wanders into Wolf Hollow. Toby is a quiet presence and his words are few.  He lives in a smoke house and walks the hollows. People think he’s odd, but he is a rare soul who is decent to his very core.

Wolk refrains from sharing all the detail about her characters leaving the reader to decide some things for themselves. The plot is riveting and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Like Annabelle, I found myself contemplating different scenarios. It is a story that will haunt you because of its depth, contradictions and unspoken truths. When I completed the Wolf Hollow, I was convinced I had been there. It is a story that will stay with you because of the profoundly human characters and the untidy ending.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. There are so many themes that can be explored.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.