Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Great Wide Sea

Imagine dropping everything, going rogue to live a life at sea; a seemingly dreamy and relaxing vision isn’t it? The real maritime experiences of Ben and his brothers in M.H. Herlong’s The Great Wide Sea, however, could not be more contrasting.

After the loss of their mother and the family anchor to an unexpected car crash, their grieving father sells the family home to buy The Chrysalis, with plans to set sail on a year- long tour of the Bahamas. During this time, the boys learn how to sail from their father and serve as his crew, each having a specialty. However, when the boys wake up one morning and their father is missing, the struggle for survival ensues, and a terrible storm leaves them shipwrecked. They must work together to stay alive, while unsure if their father fell overboard or jumped.

The boys are a great cast of characters; Ben is the oldest and the book is told through his point of view. He takes on a provider role, and comes of age throughout the story. Dylan is a brainiac who seemingly knows everything about everything, and the boys rely on him during their time marooned on an uninhabited island. Gerry is the toe-headed, blankie- toting little boy whose innocence and sincerity are refreshing, and his inquisitive nature serves as a platform for Ben’s reflections on life.

This book has a dynamic way of exploring male familial relationships. It also has an enduring plot line showing the tensions often times seen in teen/parent interactions and father/son relationships. Because of M.H Herlong’s frequent use of
foreshadowing, I don’t mind ensuring the reader that the Byron family does prevail and the story, while it is one of loss, is also one of perseverance and trust. The book is chock full of sailing terminology and real-world survival techniques which is captivating. The Great Wide Sea has a great companion site that includes ways to use the sky for navigation, a layout of the Chrysalis, terminology and other neat things worth checking out.

Published in 2008, this book is a great addition to the YA genre. It would also be a great addition to the middle or high school classroom. The novel displays good character development and wisdom. It is split into both chapters and sections, and induces page turning with its suspense. On a side note Mr. Byron, the boys’ father, is a high school English teacher, and often cites poetry to his children, which serves as a coping mechanism for him. Also, The Great Wide Sea is not incredibly graphic and explores issues that may be considered less controversial than sex and teen pregnancy, like seen in Sara Zarr’s
Story of a Girl or Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade. While both have important and meaningful messages, they are often looked over by teachers and parents. However, The Great Wide Sea may not attract a diverse group of readers while these two books might. The Byrons are plucked from middle class suburbia, and there are no characters that represent a multicultural point of view. The exploration of loss and recovery, love and hate, and childhood and adulthood, however, remain useful and memorable.


Hutting said...

After your review I want to read this book. It sounds like a book that could be used in science with navigation and constellations. I'll have to find the companion site for the book. A poetry connection would also be an addition to break up the book if the students need a break from reading ro if the reaqding gets poetry on the mind of the readers for an after book unit. Thanks for the post.

T. Arnold said...

Just curious about how you think female students would benefit from this book?

radcinbad said...

I think that female students can very easily relate to this book. It is written by a female, and I read it as a female and really enjoyed it. The relationships, although all occuring between males, are truly universal representations of sibiling and parent/child relationships. The story also discusses the loss of a mother, who Ben often talks about with pride and respect, which is refreshing and gender positive.

Tom Philion said...

nice job, cynthia! this looks like it might pair up well with Old Man and the Sea, still often taught in high schools, perhaps as one of many more contemporary options for reading.