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Beyond the Bright Sea: 12/08/17

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk is set on a fictional island off Cape Cod, near Penikese. It's set in 1923-1924, putting it in a contemporary narrative space with the "yarns" that Joseph C Lincoln was writing set in his own fictional landscape of the Cape Cod area. As I've ready and loved so many of his books, it was impossible not to listen to this audio without populating the book with his characters and landscape.

Crow has lived on the island with Osh for her entire life. She's not entire sure how old she is or when her birthday is because she's a foundling. She washed ashore in a dingy as a new born baby. She also has Miss Maggie in her life, a no nonsense woman who lives by herself and isn't prone to the superstitions that other islanders are.

Because everyone believes Crow came from Penikese, they believe she could have brought Leprosy from the island. It doesn't matter that for her entire life she hasn't shown any symptoms of it. If she could be from there, she's sick. And so her immediate world is Osh, Miss Maggie, and Mouse (the cat).

Eventually though, smart children start to question the world. They question where they come from. They crave the story of how they came to be. For Crow that means discovering if she is in fact from Penikese. That means learning everything she can about the Leper colony and the people who lived and died there.

Now here is where things come together like a Joseph C. Lincoln novel again. Lincoln's books were often about the gruff retired man, home from a life at sea, who wishes nothing more than a quiet life on his piece of the island, who for circumstances out of his control is suddenly paired with a foundling. With the help of a neighbor woman, he and she manage to make a family out of their unusual situation, only to have their quiet shattered by the intrusion of danger: a conman, a thief, an dangerous long-lost relative, etc.

Beyond the Bright Sea reminds me most of Cy Whitaker's Place set in 1908 Bayport. Cap'n Cy has returned after decades at sea but is soon left to take in recently orphaned Emily. Just as Osh nicknames his castaway as "Crow", Cy names his charge, "Bos'n." Where Cy has to protect Bos'n from an abusive father, Osh and Miss Maggie have to protect Crow and themselves from a dangerous man from the south who is searching for something he believes Crow has.

In all of this adventure, the Elizabeth Islands and nearby New Bedford are as much characters as Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie, and Mouse are. The urban hustle and bustle of New Bedford is less idealized in Beyond the Bright Sea than it (or its fictional equivalents) is in Lincoln's novels. While he and his characters were islanders too, he didn't set the islands apart quite as starkly.

There's an interesting afterword read by the author that's worth listening to at the end of of the audiobook. She explains the inspiration of the story and the many changes that Penikese has gone through since the close of the novel.

Five stars

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