When the Sea Turned to Silver
First, a confession. I haven’t read the previous Grace Lin books in this series! Unforgivable, maybe, but I think that makes it easier for me to try to read and evaluate her new novel without letting my feelings about her other work get in the way. I don’t have to worry about it standing alone, about previous knowledge, about my feelings about characters. This book, for me, is fresh and new.
The truth is, these books didn’t hold great appeal to me just in terms of genre. I’m not a great fan of fantasy or adventure. Folklore is sometimes interesting to me, but definitely not my specialty. So, my reading tends to focus elsewhere, on books that are easier for me to see will appeal. Here I am, though, back at Heavy Medal and back in action with flexing my read-what-you-aren’t-instinctively-drawn-to muscles and remembering how important it is to break down those walls. When the walls came down, WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER was just sitting there waiting for me.
National Book Award finalist, multiple starred reviews and a past honor winning author… none of this matters in terms of this year’s Newbery, but it certainly helped me decide to pick the book up.
So, this is storytelling at a masterful level. The weaving of stories within the greater narrative, the turtle’s first person (first turtle?) perspective throughout and the adventure of the main plot all coming together in the end was an epic feat of writing . We have a very relatable coming-of-age of a shy young girl realizing that she not only could mimic her grandmother’s storytelling, but that she herself could be a master of the craft and that she had the power to save the world. There’s a great mix of fantasy, folklore, and real world concerns. The plot moves quickly, the conflict is engaging and the characters vivid.
My one concern, and it really may be just me, is that as everything came together in the end, I felt a little bit lost. I was excited to see all the stories tied together in this way, but I felt like I didn’t remember enough details of everything that led to the ending to be as wowed as I should have been. I would be quite curious to know if others felt that way, or if everyone else was maybe a closer reader. I admit to doing a fast-paced read, partially because I was so driven to get to what was going to happen next. How satisfying was the ending for you?
There are things I would do to prepare for discussing this book at the Newbery table (or Mock Newbery table). This is a book that, for me, calls for re-reading and pouring over details to see if the story really fits together or if there are pieces that are confusing. In addition to that kind of re-read, I’d want to do some research into Chinese folklore and storytelling traditions. Any experts in our midst who can weigh in?
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About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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