Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk



I looked at my arms. They were the same colour Osh made by mixing purple and yellow, blue and orange, red and green. 

I wondered what people on those other islands looked like. Maybe I was a real islander after all. Just not an Elizabeth islander. Except I was here, on the Elizabeths, regardless of where else I might belong.

‘Lots of people here come from other places, right?’ I said. 

‘What, here? Penikese? I just told you they did Crow.’ 

‘I didn’t mean just here,’ I said. 

(Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. P63.) 



Crow lives with Osh. She supposes they both had other names once, but Osh is the name she has always called him, and Crow is the name he chose when she swept up on the sea. Crow wants to know who she was before Osh. Who put a baby in a boat, and trusted the waves to take that baby to a safer home? Her only clues are the ring which Osh found alongside her, and letter. Most of its words are smudged.

Most people on the Elizabeth Islands won’t come near Crow, in case she comes from the leprosy colony which used to be on Penikese. It seems as good a place as any for Crow to start her search. Crow’s not the only person taking interest in Penikese. Why does that strange man keep visiting the island, and why is he carrying a shovel?

There’s more than one secret buried on Penikese. 



The world is beautifully described and the characters are well introduced. Osh has secrets he wants to forget. Crow has a past she wants to learn. Miss Maggie is the third important character. I love Miss Maggie. She’s so patient with Osh, who accepts her presence but closes himself to her friendship and affections. A sub-plot is also set up: Captain Kidd hid some of his treasure in the Elizabeth Islands.

There is a point in every novel where the plot ‘bites’. It is possible to reel in huge amounts of information from the set-up. At the point where there plot bit, Crow decided to search Penikese for information about babies born on the island, and the villain’s interest in the island became apparent.

I loved Wolf Hollow. I read it in a sitting. Regardless, I had one major issue with the story. An issue serious enough for me to discount it as my possible favourite for the Carnegie. Betty was brilliantly constructed, but the message disturbed me. ‘Some people are bad through and through’? It’s a small step between this and throwing stones. Beyond the Bright Sea isn’t so damning of its villain, but nor is it particularly interested in his character. SPOILER:  I expected the villain to be linked to the main plot, the story of Crow’s birth. Instead, he is only part of the subplot. His intentions aren’t particularly relevant. He’s a greedy guy, and not a very nice one.

The best thing about the novel was the relationships between Crow, Osh and Miss Maggie. Wherever they’ve come from, they’ve found their family. Osh will fight for his right to live quietly on the islands. Wolk is brilliant at one line summaries. A sentence or two which ties up an event, and makes comment on a wider issue. My favourite is the observation about who people who aren’t willing to touch a door-knob opened by Crow – who doesn’t have leprosy, but might have been born on Penikese – are willing to dig up the island once they stand to gain from it.  It is these observations which will stick with me, alongside the island setting.

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