Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist #4: Lalani of the Distant Sea
Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Melisa Bailey
Former Newbery winner Erin Entrada Kelly created a unique and beautifully written story of good conquering evil under an umbrella of Filipino folklore in Lalani of the Distance Sea. Within the story, Kelly developes rich, complicated characters, a distinct sense of place, and explores morality, personal responsibility, revenge, bullying, and death all while drawing the reader into an incredible coming of age story.
The depth of Kelly’s writing is shown as she creates a physical world that mirrors Lalani’s social world. To the west is Mount Kahna that, besides housing the local monster, “casts a shadow of vengeance, impatience and fear.” To the north is the Veiled Sea, a physical entity that sits over the water “where ships disappear into the Mist never to be seen again.” Her village is run by the Menyoro who demands obedience but does little to improve the villagers’ lives. Within Lalani’s home is Drum who “cast the darkest shadow in the house.” As Lalani moves through the story she eventually becomes covered in mud (or darkness), symbolically turning into her own shadow and mirroring her world. Not until she was crossing the Veiled Sea did her skin become clean, cleansed by her courage and fortitude.
Layered on the atmosphere of darkness is the constant moral struggle of the villagers, including Lalani. Lalani feels guilt when Maddox “said it-twice-that she was kind. But she wished harm on her uncle moments ago. If Maddox knew this would he still thinks she was a kind girl?” Other characters struggle too: such as the mender who confessed the theft of her sick sister’s rations. These are examples of Kelly’s skill in bleeding the atmosphere of the story into her characters’ personalities.
Kelly injects multiple points of view into this novel with great effect. There is excellent foreshadowing and the magical creatures add an otherworldly depth. In my opinion Lalani of the Distance Sea meets and surpasses what it means to be a “distinguished contribution to American literature” according to the criteria for the Newbery Award.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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