Book Reviews

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Released: September 2018
: Penguin Random House
Pages: 304
: 5/5

The moving story of an orphan determined to know her own history and discovers the true meaning of family. 


From the publisher:

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

Vivid and heart-wrenching, Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Sea is a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family.


Aside from being a truly beautifully written book, I have to give credit to this story for getting me out of my reading slump. When my mother passed over the summer I found it difficult for several months to read anything. I tend to read pretty heavy books most of the time and I simply did not have the concentration to focus on anything too intense after she died.

That’s why I decided to ease my way back into reading by revisiting some old childhood favorites like The Animorphs series. When I eventually decided I was ready to try reading something new, I thought sticking with middle grade books would be my best bet. Beyond the Bright Sea came up highly recommended on Goodreads and it didn’t take long for me to see why.

Within only a few pages I found myself falling in love with the three main characters and the unlikely bond they formed. Often a “found family” is the strongest and most precious type of family. Together this motely crew learned not only about Crow’s mysterious past, but began to learn how to let down their stubborn barriers so that they could finally come to grips with their lives and their connections to each other.

Many questions were answered by the book’s conclusion, but several more were left up to the reader to ponder. If you only like books that are an open and shut case then this might not be the book for you, but in this reader’s opinion the ending of the book was quite satisfying despite the unanswered questions.

Also, this means that should Wolk decide to write a sequel she has plenty of material at hand to write it from! I’d absolutely adore being able to spend more time with the characters, but honestly I’m just grateful to have been able to meet them at all.


Beyond the Bright Sea took place in an area of New England I’m not particularly familiar with. It was fascinating to learn about the lives of people on these small islands off the coast of Massachusetts. What was even more fascinating was the inclusion of an Elizabeth island that was once a leper colony.

Without me planning it, three separate books I’ve read recently have broached the subject of leprosy. Once one of the most stigmatized diseases known to man, it is far better understood now and much less prevalent in the developed world than it once was. This book took place during a period that still greatly feared “lepers” and the stigma the lepers endured featured heavily throughout the story. It was devastating the way people even just suspected of having the disease were essentially exiled from society, forced to live in isolation and seclusion.

Even though the leper colony in MA no longer exists, in some developing countries leper colonies of sorts are still around because of local fears that are often based on long disproven beliefs over how the disease is spread. I have to admit that until I did more research recently, I was far more wary of the disease than I should have been, most likely because of how long and how deeply society has feared it. I consider myself well informed, but some of the things I thought were true about leprosy were actually just centuries’ old myths. While it makes for some tough reading, it’s a subject definitely worth looking into.


Have you read this book or any others by Lauren Wolk? Do you have any middle grade book recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

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