I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.
Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold, cover art by Kate Forrester, published by Little Tiger
In case you didn’t know, I absolutely loved Nicola’s first book, ‘Where the World Turns Wild’ (you can read my review here) and I have been looking forward to this ever since I finished that last spring!
Well, it didn’t disappoint.
As with Where the World Turns Wild, Between Sea and Sky is set in an all too possible future in which environmental disasters have resulted in a very different world to the one we know now.
Here, we see the aftermath of several natural disasters which have caused widespread flooding and destruction; life on land feels sterile, tightly monitored and strictly regimented.
Living in closely controlled, concrete compounds surrounded by silicone fields and ‘The Edible Uplands’, a man-made indoor ‘farm’, Nat and his friends know little about the world as it used to be nor the nature it used to be home too, with many species wiped out and no access to books, images or videos from the so-called Greedy Years.
But what Nat and his friends find at the old abandoned windmill (a forbidden place and the only pocket of anything remotely wild) sees them beginning to question just how ‘gone’ these creatures really are… Is there a chance there’s a recovery underway? Is finding out worth risking their families being punished and sent to the prison ship? And can Nat trust the two girls out at sea with his secret?
Pearl and Clover live with their Dad on a floating oyster farm, relatively free of the constraints of the land. Their life couldn’t be more different to Nat’s, surrounded as they are by marine life – porpoises, gulls, fish, geese, shells and seaweed… not to mention the wild ways of the weather they must be adept at reading and responding to – ice, fierce heat, crashing storms…
And while both girls love their outdoor life, Clover is beginning to yearn for more human contact too. She’s desperate to enrol in school on land, to make friends, to be ‘normal’, while Pearl embraces to solitude of life at sea and wants to go nowhere near the land, blaming it for her mother’s death.
So when Nat is begrudgingly sent to stay with them while his mother is there to conduct research, it’s a big adjustment for all and the dynamics of this are superbly written, emotionally charged but full of understanding.
His first meal aboard, his introduction to the whale and his swimming lessons especially feel so tenderly written – full of warmth, a gentle humour and sensitivity to the emotions running high among all three children, and the complete change Nat is faced withpl.
The use of dual narratives not only really helps us to empathise with the characters, really getting into their complex mix of feelings, but also highlights the stark contrast between land and sea so clearly; What we know of life on land amplifies the freedom and wildness of the sea, and what we know of life on the sea drives home the sheer lack of nature, the removal from it and manipulation of it, on land.
Pearl is raging with Nat’s arrival, desperate to protect both her unwell dad and illegal sister, while Clover is desperate to befriend him. Nat for his part is wary of his new surroundings but trying his hardest to make the best of things. And regardless of their feelings, it’s not long before events force them to put aside their differences and work together.
What follows is both a gripping environmental adventure filled with hope and a powerful exploration of feelings, friendship and family. It is a moving story which looks closely at grief and the ways in which we cope with it, but always with sensitivity. My heart went out to the characters but I was never without hope for them.
At the heart of the book is both the affinity between children and nature, and the determination, curiosity and bravery seemingly only found in the young; a new generation rallying against mistakes, injustices and poor decisions of the past to spark change. A more important, timely and empowering message there could not be in children’s literature today.
And what is abundantly clear is that while nature can undoubtedly be both powerful and unpredictable, it is also fragile, easily damaged and very much in our hands.
Likewise, the book also highlights our personal need for nature – its restorative powers; its ability to boost us or calm us and the a sense of perspective, stillness or wonder it instills.
Nicola’s own love of nature and passion for environmental issues and our responsibility for them is clear. The natural world she portrays is tangible – the sun beat down on me; the salt water sprayed me; the mudflats oozes between my toes; the sea stretched ahead of me, sparkling in the sunlight; the storm battered me.
And I absolutely loved the wishings. I can’t even express the joy they gave me; there is a feeling in my gut only. They spoke to me, to the finder and the wisher and the dreamer in me I suppose. One of the finest compliments I ever received from a friend was that I “notice all the small things” around us, and I think it’s this part of me that treasures finding feathers and pebbles and shells and flowers and… that loved the mudlarking.
The transformation of this into a ritual that both connected the girls to their mother, to the land, the sea, to the past and the future was perfect. I loved the magical quality it had, as well as the conversations and exploration of how/if the wishings work and how this changed for Pearl and Clover. And no spoilers but the way this was incorporated into the ending was PERFECT!
Well, if you haven’t guessed by now – I loved this! Both a tense and thought-provoking environmental adventure, and a moving look at loss, family and friendship. The characters are complex and utterly believable (I thought Pearl especially was so brilliantly written) and the settings – and all the emotions that accompany them – vividly depicted. An absolute must-read.