The Story of Land and Sea
Katy Simpson Smith (Adult Fiction)
Tabitha’s grandmother died in childbirth as did her own mother. “Death only comes to mothers,” she thinks and a mother she’ll never be. But when young Tabitha is suddenly struck with yellow fever, her now land-bound father, John, returns to the sea with Tab in an effort to save her life. After all, it was the sea that once gave life to her mother, Helen, and John is convinced that the sea can cure Tab as well. Land, he knows, only brings about death.
Smith breaks her story into three parts: the first part (set in 1793) introduces us to John and his daughter Tab and their life in Beaufort; the second part (1771-1782) gives us a young Helen and her servant Moll and shows us how Helen and John meet; and the final part (1793-1794) concentrates on Helen’s father, Asa, as well as an adult Moll and her son, Davy. The story spans three generations and deals with issues of loss, loneliness, and grief.
This is probably, by far, one of the bleakest books I have ever read. Although this book is beautifully written, it gives away the fates of several main characters much too early in the story, leaving readers with a lot of backstory and very little else to look forward to. Smith also deals heavily in religion and so we expect some semblance of redemption or spiritual revelation. Again, the reader is left empty-handed. But what might be the most incomprehensible decision Smith makes is choosing to devote the last third of her novel to perhaps the most uninteresting and uninspiring character in the entire book. I wish this book had finished as strongly as it started, but unfortunately The Story of Land and Sea is really just a story without point or purpose.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
Avi (Juvenile Historical Fiction)
It’s 1776 and the War for Independence has arrived at Sophia Calderwood’s front door. Before long, New York City is occupied by British troops and every citizen chooses a side: loyalist or patriot. To be a patriot is dangerous, but to be a spy is a death sentence. They hang spies. But Sophia needs to do something to help and, despite the risks, she utters four words that would change the course of her life, and possibly, the revolution: “I wish to help.”
Avi has given us a compelling and dramatic story that is about as close to an actual history book as you can get. Other than Sophia and her family, every character in this book is real; however, what I appreciate most about this story is the light Avi sheds on the darkness that was the British prisons. Those that lost their personal freedom fighting for their country’s freedom endured starvation, disease, cold, filth, and neglect. A soldier whose life was spared on the battlefield most likely lost it while in prison. Evidence points to the fact that nearly 18,000 people died in Britain’s New York prisons, while some 7,000 died on the battlefield. And this was in New York alone.
This book is targeted for ages 7 to 12, but there are sections that tend to get a bit weighty with the names of numerous battles and their commanders. This might prove a little overwhelming for readers on the younger end of the scale, but for those in the upper elementary-age bracket, this book provides an informative glimpse into the Revolutionary War and one of history’s most famous traitors. Truly a thrilling and worthy read that ends with highly dramatic, parallel storylines that serve as an 18th century version of Spy vs. Spy.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.simonandschuster.com