Beyond the Bright Sea is on the Carnegie 2018 shortlist and is a worthy contender. It begins with a baby, floating on the sea in a skiff (small boat, people!) . The baby is found and taken in by a man called Osh. Osh lives in a house on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. Osh is not his real name; he decides to call the baby Crow. It isn’t really clear why but as the novel progresses it seems to be because Crow is a different skin colour, I’m still not sure which! She may be Chinese but it’s not really explained.
So, Crow and Osh live in Osh’s house on a small island. The group of Islands is called the Elizabeth’s and is a real place, so some of the story, although fiction, has a real setting. I am the type of person that likes to google stuff so I watched a video about Penikese, a leper colony that the state of Massachusetts set up on one of the Elizabeth Islands in the 1920s. It took in local residents with the disease as well as foreign people who had it, including Chinese and African people. Crow thinks that she has some link to the leper colony, and the other residents of the Elizabeth’s seem to think so as well , they don’t touch her or speak to her. She isn’t allowed to go the local school in case she infects the other children. Even though she has never shown any signs of having the disease, she is treated as though she has.
The other character in the book is Miss Maggie. We had a discussion in book group about how old Miss Maggie is. The name conjures up an older lady, and she certainly behaves like an old lady sometimes, but I think she’s probably in a her 30s. She lives on a neighbouring island and has a farm. She teaches Crow her letters and some maths and generally looks after her as well.
When Crow reaches the age of 12 she decides that she wants to find out more about her real parents and where she came from. This leads to a chain of events that puts all three of them in danger. Penikese is now inhabited by a bird keeper, the inhabits and the doctor and nurse from the leper hospital have moved away and the hospital partially burnt down. Crow writes to the doctor to ask for information about any baby’s born on the island. He writes back to tell her that two babies were born there, one was taken to an orphanage on the main land and the other died. Crow decides to investigate anyway.
This book is delightful. It has history, adventure, thrills and spills and some really interesting facts about island life. There is definitely something strange about Osh which is never explained, he comes from a different land, speaks a different language and has given up everything to retreat to the island. Miss Maggie tells Crow that when he arrived, he smashed the hull of his boat so that he couldn’t leave. He is also very shifty when the police arrive to question Crow about an incident on Pekinese. This is never explained however and it would have been more satisfying to finish the book with all the information about the characters; unless the author is planning to write another book!
I liked it, I haven’t read Wolf Hollow, which was on the Carnegie Shortlist last year and is by the same author, but would recommend this one if you are looking for something not too challenging but hugely interesting.