Rummanah Aasi
  We all have lost a loved one sometime in our lives. We all deal with their loss in different ways. Some of us get angry at ourselves in thinking of ways how the death could be avoided by plaguing ourselves with "what if" questions. Some of us might seem to dive right back in our normal routine and act as if nothing happened. Some are just shocked, numb, and confused about what exactly has happened. The point I'm trying to make here is that we all grieve in different ways and most of them we look upon others to receive strength and direction, but it's hard to understand that we all are looking for the same thing and most of time, just like in life, have no answers. It is this last epiphany that struck a chord with me when I finished the phenomenal children's book The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong. 

Description (back of the book): Ben and his brothers have always loved sailing on the lake near their house. But when their mother dies in an accident and their father decides to sell their house and sail around the Bahamas, they aren't so sure about life on a worn old sailboat so far from home. Then one morning the boys wake up to discover that their dad is gone and they're lost half-way between the Bahamas and Bermuda. What happened to their father? And what will they do when a treacherous storm looms on the horizon?

Review: I have not a great adventure, survival story like The Great Wide Sea since reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet in fifth grade. Without getting a chance to say goodbye to their mother, Ben and his brothers are whisked away by their father to travel. Their father has already sold their house, packed all of their belongs (including their mother's) which will most likely go to charity, and bought supplies for their trip. The loss that the family feels isn't addressed, but it is felt heavily in the air surrounding them.
   Ben is our narrator and a fifteen year old teen as the story begins. He did not expect to lose his mother so soon and have his life irrevocably changed. He had planned on getting a car on his sixteenth birthday and meeting girls, but not leave his home to go sailing with his deranged, callous dad who seemed to quickly forget about their mother. He tries to resist his father and implores him to be reasonable, but he ultimately fails. Thus, begins the slow, strenuous relationship he has with father. For Ben, his father is the one who should have answers not just disappear to let him and his brothers fend for their lives.
  Dylan, Ben's second brother, is stoic and intelligent. Despite when times are frantic and grim, he keeps his cool. Ben receives strength and optimism from Dylan. Gerry, the youngest of the three brothers and just five years old, is one of the most adorable characters I have ever encountered. Though he is a toddler, he is very observant and is keen to understand when problems happen and when people are fighting. He carries Blankie, very much so like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons, as a safety net. It is his innocent questions and body movements that made me cry.    Ben's father is an interesting character. Like Ben, I was completely taken aback from his plans to sail for a year with his boys. His plans were illogical and at times reminded me a little of the megalomaniac Captain Ahab of Moby Dick. We fear the worst for him and dislike him more when he disappears, but we are uncertain until the powerful ending of the book. 
  While there are intricate details of sailing provided in the book, the information did not take over the story but rather vividly painted a picture in my mind. The author has a great sense of setting that I imagined the boat and the storm so clearly in my head. Without having any prior knowledge of sailing, I knew what the characters were doing and why.
  I cried quite a few times in The Great Wide Sea and though the journey at sea was harrowing, most of my tears came from the brother's shared memories of their mother, the few quiet moments where they allowed themselves to briefly cry on each others' shoulders, and at especially the ending. While most readers may be drawn to the edge-of-your-seat plot (believe me, I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough), the storm at sea is also a metaphor of the storm that is raging in the family's heart. The Great Wide Sea is a fantastic adventure/nature/survival story that will please both girls and boys. It also brilliantly portrays family's relationships in a time of crisis and I loved every minute of it.   


Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 to 8.

If you like this book try: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Beet Fields by Gary Paulsen, The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
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