Beyond the Bright Sea
Dutton, 2017 289 pages
Crow has spent her twelve years living on a remote island off the coast of Cape Cod with her guardian, Osh, in the 1920's. Osh found Crow as a baby when she washed up on shore in a basket set adrift, presumably from the former leper colony island across the way. Osh and their neighbor Miss Maggie have been raising Crow, educating her, and loving her. This life has always been enough for Crow, until she sees a fire on the nearby island that raises her curiosity about her past. She convinces Osh and Miss Maggie to accompany her to the island where they see her birthplace and its new inhabitant, a mean and miserable man posing as a naturalist. The man is not who he pretends to be and is actually after pirate treasure rumored to be buried beneath the former leper colony. Further investigation leads Crow to a medical professional from the former colony who gives her more pieces to the puzzle that is her past. An excursion to town yields even more answers, including the existence of a brother who had a very different upbringing, and affirms Crow's desire to retreat to her island with her little accidental family. The mystery to Crow's past slowly unravels as the danger from the evil treasure hunter becomes more evident. A major nor'easter blows in and brings with it the exciting climax, where Crow must face grave danger and find her inner courage to hold onto what is hers. Most mysteries are solved, some aren't, but all ends with contentment and peace.
Wolk stays close to home as she explores life on the Elizabeth Islands, off the coast of Cape Cod during the 1920's in this sophomore novel for young people following last year's Newbery Honor winning Wolf Hollow. The setting is vividly painted and serves almost as a separate character, as readers experience remote island life nearly one-hundred years ago. Although atmospheric, Wolk offers readers a quickly moving plot with mysteries to be unraveled along the way and suspenseful moments in abundance to keep pages turning. Although Wolk solves the most important mysteries, including the identity of Crow's biological family and the existence of the pirate treasure, not all mysteries are solved, much as in real life. I was waiting for a fairy tale reunion with the long lost brother, but this, realistically, never happens. We also never find out the back story of the mysterious Osh. Reader's are given clues to Osh's sketchy past, but no details follow. This is also true to real life. Children don't need to know their adult's backstories, they just need them to be reliable and loving, which Osh certainly is. Themes in this novel include family is what we make it and not necessarily biological, people are more valuable than jewels and loved ones are the true treasure, and you have to do the right thing, even if its scary and hard. Beyond a great story, readers learn about 1920's Massachusetts island life and the treatment of diseased people during this time. Children may also find it interesting as to how to conduct research without the internet. Beyond this, Wolk writes beautifully, intentionally and lyrically. Between the quality of the writing and the layers of the plot, so far this is the best book for young people I have read this year and is my early Newbery prediction.