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Lalani of the Distant Sea: 10/21/19

Lalani of the Distant Sea

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly is set on an island, Sanlagita, near another island. Sanlagita is suffering a drought. There are food and medicine shortages. The head of the village does nothing and refuses to let anyone else help in ways that he cannot.

Lalani has already lost her father and now her mother is ill from pricking her finger while mending fishing nets. The men of the village spend their time building boats and setting sail. Sometimes they fish. Sometimes they aim for the next island over, rumored to be a paradise, lush in fruits and medicinal herbs. The men who head to the island never return.

Lalani, tired of seeing the people she loves suffer decides to do something. At first it's to find solutions on her own island. This leads to being tricked by the beast of the mountain, resulting in a never-ending storm.

When her efforts lead to her ostracism and a deadly mudslide, she realizes she has nothing left to lose. It's at this point she decides to find the island herself, relying on the stories she has grown up with.

Mixed in with the tale of Sanlagita's suffering are the stories that make the fabric of the island's culture. They are based on Filipino folklore. Each story, beautifully illustrated by Lian Cho begin with "Imagine you're...." Each one offers a glimpse into the life of a creature, mystical creature, god, monster, and so forth.

Lalani's knowledge of the stories and her empathy for all the characters in the stories is what allows her to succeed where others fail.

Her journey to save her island also happens to sit on the road narrative spectrum in the same category as Keeper by Kathi Appelt (2010) and The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (2016), among others.

Lalani, who is facing the reality of being a literal orphan given her mother's illness, and her own ostracism from the village, is an orphan or lone traveler (FF). It's her solitude and the fact she has already lost so much that gives her the best chance of success.

Her destination is the wildlands (99) of a mystical island. It's uninhabited (by humans) and quite possibly inhabited by magical creatures, monsters, and gods.

Her route is offroad, namely over the untamed ocean and through a magical fog that is there to prevent the island from being found. The fog confuses sailors and usually leads to them either starving or drowning. Sometimes it ends up worse with the sailors killing each other. Lalani's determination, solitude, and knowledge of the stories helps her stay on the right path.

Put all together, Lalani's journey is the tale of an orphan going to the wildlands via an offroad route (FF9966).

Lalani of the Distant Sea takes a while to get started and the oral tradition of story telling might not be for everyone. That said, it's a memorable book and one that would lend itself to a classroom story time.

Four stars

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