A Crack in the Sea, by H.M. Bouwman

A Crack in the Sea, by H.M. Bouwman (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, January 2017), is a middle grade fantasy novel that combines krakens, the horrific tragedy of the Middle Passage, the horrors endured by Vietnamese boat people, a second world where people (some with magical gifts) live on tropical islands and on a floating raft town, and Amelia Earhart.  What unites all these threads is a crack in the sea; unpredictably opening to let people from our first world fall though.

Three sets of siblings are central to the story at hand.  Venus and her brother Swimmer survive being kidnapped by slavers, and when the captain of the slave ship that's taken them begins to throw the sick and dying captives overboard, Venus and Swimmer use their gifts to lead their people on a walk underwater to the second world. 

Two hundred years later, two other siblings living in the second world hear their origin story, and embark on an adventure of their own.  Pip, the little brother, is face-blind, so his big sister has always tried to buffer him from the world.  But Pip can talk to fish, and the leader of the raft-people thinks this gift might lead him to the crack in the sea, offering a return to Africa.  And so he kidnaps Pip....In the meantime (which in this case is the 1970s), a family of refugees sets out from Vietnam, and after a voyage full of suffering, finds themselves falling through the crack and being taken in by the raft people. Thanh and his sister Sang find there a most unlikely and truly happy ending.

And then there are two Krakens, tied to all the stories....and Amelia, though I'll refrain from specifying her part in it all!

And it is a lot of stories--moving stories, full of sadness, but always with hope. The Second World is a refugee that gives almost all the characters a peaceful life.  In reality, of course, there was no Crack in the Sea that would have saved the captives and the refugees, and this gives a bitter poignancy to the story that the author herself, as she notes in the afterword, is keenly aware of.   It also gives the story a somewhat fairytale feel, as if the Second World were a place that nothing could go wrong.  Happily, though, the people that live there are in fact people, and so have misunderstandings, and personal growth moments, and hurts, like all people do.

Because it is so many stories, told in layers, it might be hard for some young readers to stay engaged with the book.  And I think that it might in fact work best for many as a book read aloud; as a shared dream within which are other dreams, full of bright images, bright moments of human connection, and the sadness that makes the brightness even more vivid.

Most powerful image-Venus and Swimmer leading the captives along their long walk underwater, the shackles rusting as they go, feeling neither hunger or thirst as they journey hand holding hand holding hand.  It reminds me of the haunting underwater sculpture, Vicissitudes, off the coast of Grenada--


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