A skiff carrying a newborn baby washes ashore on one of Massachusett’s Elizabeth Islands. The little girl is named Crow and raised by Osh, a loner with a mysterious past, and by Miss Maggie, a neighbor on the island. Crow and Osh live a simple life in a shack on the beach, fishing and gathering lobsters, but she is starting to question from where, and from whom, she came. Seeking answers leads her, and the reader, through a series of mysteries in this memorable novel.
Beyond the Bright Sea by 2017 Newbery Honor-winning author Lauren Wolk is set in the 1920s and centers on Crow’s search for information about her past. Crow is happy living by the sea with Osh and taking lessons in reading and math from Miss Maggie. She wonders, though, why the other islanders avoid her and always keep at a distance. Crow says that she “had a nagging need to know what I didn’t know.” Her curiosity is heightened when Osh shows her a note and ring that were in her infant wrappings when she appeared on his beach.
More questions arise when twelve-year-old Crow spots a fire burning on a nearby island, an island which housed a leper hospital until recent years. She is drawn to the island but is suspicious of the gruff stranger she meets there when she, Osh, and Miss Maggie sail out to investigate the source of the fire. That trip to the island leads to a return trip, in which the mystery surrounding the stranger and his intentions grows more frightening.
Wolk paints, with words, a powerful portrait of the islands and of the sea, as the setting becomes almost another character in the story. Crow’s small island world comes to life in the description of the rugged coast where shipwrecks are not an uncommon occurrence, but also from where Osh’s livelihood comes. Crow and Osh live in harmony with their rough but magnificent environment.
I found this novel to be moving and heartwarming in many ways. The story focuses on the theme of what makes a family, especially when family is made up of members unrelated by blood. The relationship between Crow and Osh is one of the highlights of this story. Because Crow is the narrator, readers are privy to her feelings, but, through Osh’s words and actions, we also sense his concern, and even his pain, when Crow seeks to learn more about her biological family.
Not all is warm and touching, however. The novel also has mystery and adventure, with suspenseful, action-packed passages. The author has skillfully blended the slower, more thoughtful segments with the foreboding, and then gripping, action-filled segments.
Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the backstory of the islands and the time period, but Crow’s search for her identity, paired with the mysterious occurences that result from her search, will appeal to a wide range of middle grade readers.
Cover image from Amazon.com