Heavy Medal Finalist – Beyond the Bright Sea
Lauren Wolk’s BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA seems to be one title that pops up almost every time I see or hear a list of likely Newbery contenders. Not necessarily on the top of those lists, but always in there. It received 6 nominations on this blog and received 5 stars from journals. In an earlier Heavy Medal post, the most positive comments were related to style and voice, and that’s still what stands out to me. Crow’s first person narration brings her world to life. She moves effortlessly from rich imagery to plain old description, and the combination is a pleasure to experience. An early passage from page 4 works as an example:
The dream that woke me, wondering anew about my name, was full of stars and whales blowing and the lyrics of the sea. When I opened my eyes, I lay for a minute, watching Osh as he stood at the stove, cooking porridge in a scabby pot.
I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “Why is my name Crow?” I asked.
When Osh stirred the porridge, the spoon made a sound like a boat being dragged across the beach. “I’ve told you,” he said. “You were hoarse with crying when you washed up here. You cawed over and over. So I called you Crow.”
That answer had always been enough before. But it didn’t explain everything. And everything was what I had begun to want.
That passage includes several examples of the effectiveness of the author’s style:
- The shift from the imagery of “stars” and “whales” and “lyrics” to the tangible, earthbound “scabby pot.”
- The ocean references which recur throughout the book; of course these would be Crow’s reference points since that’s been her world, and they help us get to know her and her environment.
- The sound of the spoon, which helps us feel like we’re right there in the kitchen with them, listening to their dialogue. People never seem to just talk in this book, they’re always doing something while they talk, which makes the scenes feel real and grounded.
- The contrast between the language of the dialogue and of the narration. Osh is terse and plain spoken, but so is Crow through most of the book. Her internal reflections contain the lyricism. Which, to me at least, clearly indicates this is an older Crow’s voice, trying to capture her younger self.
- The “everything” that comes in at the end, pointing towards the self-discovery that Crow is ready for.
I’m not saying this section stands on its own as a marvel of distinguished writing, but it’s a strong early example of a voice that accomplishes a lot. And it’s maintained and developed consistently, contributing to engaging characters and a vivid sense of place.
The passage also contains a bit of one element that worked less well for me: the regular hints that something momentous is about to happen, or will happen soon. “Everything was what I had begun to want” works at this early point in the novel, but similar bits of foreshadowing seemed overused the first time I read it…and even a bit more so the second time through. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, though, we don’t need to find a perfect book, just the most distinguished one of the year. Is BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA in the running?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLJ Blog Network