Monday, March 27, 2023

Book Review of "Beyond That, the Sea" by Laura Spence-Ash

Do you love historical fiction and coming-of-age stories? Looking for a unique new perspective in a familiar genre? Check out my review of  "Beyond That the Sea" by Laura Spence-Ash.

Beyond That, the Sea

by Laura Spence - Ash

As German bombs fall over London in 1940, working-class parents Millie and Reginald Thompson make an impossible choice: they decide to send their eleven-year-old daughter, Beatrix, to America. There, she’ll live with another family for the duration of the war, where they hope she’ll stay safe.

Scared and angry, feeling lonely and displaced, Bea arrives in Boston to meet the Gregorys. Mr. and Mrs. G, and their sons William and Gerald, fold Bea seamlessly into their world. She becomes part of this lively family, learning their ways and their stories, adjusting to their affluent lifestyle. Bea grows close to both boys, one older and one younger, and fills in the gap between them. Before long, before she even realizes it, life with the Gregorys feels more natural to her than the quiet, spare life with her own parents back in England.

As Bea comes into herself and relaxes into her new life―summers on the coast in Maine, new friends clamoring to hear about life across the sea―the girl she had been begins to fade away, until, abruptly, she is called home to London when the war ends.

Desperate as she is not to leave this life behind, Bea dutifully retraces her trip across the Atlantic back to her new, old world. As she returns to post-war London, the memory of her American family stays with her, never fully letting her go, and always pulling on her heart as she tries to move on and pursue love and a life of her own.

As we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, Beyond That, the Sea emerges as a beautifully written, absorbing novel, full of grace and heartache, forgiveness and understanding, loss and love. ( from )

Book Review and Discussion of
"Beyond That, the Sea" by Laura Spence-Ash

What Worked Well - 

A unique setup for historical fiction If, like me, you read *a lot* of historical fiction - with a WWII timeline, with female narrators, with women on the cover, you know the type, then you might be excited to know that this book did actually feel different than most in the genre! Outside of young adult fiction, I had not read a novel about a child being sent away for safety during WWII, particularly somewhere as far away, and familiar to me, as America. I loved the duality the author explored in this exciting new adventure for the main character and the many points of view. Bea is traveling to America alone and meeting her new family, and making new friends, but this excitement is juxtaposed with the heartbreaking sadness of being separated from her true parents and for them their only child, during such a turbulent time. 

The first half of this book is * SO GOOD * After finishing reading "Beyond That, the Sea" I gave the book three stars, for reasons discussed below - but when I first started reading the novel I would've said it was a five-star read for sure. I absolutely loved the unique story and perspective. I also enjoyed the different storylines weaving together and everything felt very well constructed. I was excited to see what would happen in the main character's adventures in America, how her parents back home would adjust, how her new parents would as well, and what her new "brothers" would think of her. Yes, it was warm and cute but also there was a degree of emotional complexity, but in the end maybe not enough?

Memorable characters I absolutely love the characters that Laura Spence-Ash created for this novel. Their situations, personalities, and struggles all felt very real. We get a sneak into all of their perspectives allowing the reader to connect in different ways with each one. I would love to see a film adaptation of this movie to see who would be cast in each role, particularly the Boston mother, Nancy. She was such a warm and truly good presence in the book and in each of the characters' lives as a mother and friend. You don't see characters like hers often in modern fiction and it was a comfort and encouragement to read her parts of the story.

What I Struggled With - 

So slow at the end The reader who thought this would be a five-star read was pretty disappointed by the end of the book that seemed to drag out forever. I think a good chunk of "Beyond That, the Sea" could've been cut out. But then after a long middle, the ending also felt fairly rushed. I don't tend to like books that try to tie everything together very neatly in the end. I don't need to see characters through to the very end of their stories - and this book definitely does that. There also weren't any sharper edges to this book. The plot and characters felt soft and fluffy even in its sadder moments, the emotional complexity from the beginning of the novel didn't carry throughout the story.

Italics conversations with no clear purpose - I'm not someone who is typically bothered by authors breaking convention and deciding to not use quotation marks, but this one started to frustrate me by the end. In "Beyond That, the Sea", all of the conversations between characters are in italics, without quotations, and also without explicitly stating who is saying what. You know the characters fairly well, so you can discern who is saying what 80% of the time, but the other 20% where you have to guess really didn't add anything for me, and just became frustrating by the end. Whatever the purpose of this was it wasn't worth the repeated confusion for me as a reader.

The intro really threw me off - I was so thrown off by the start of this book, there are maybe three pages where the main character, Bea, is looking back on her time in Maine. Because you don't know any of the characters yet it is just confusing; there are many character names and random information to absorb without any context. This introduction thankfully did not match the tone of the rest of the book, which I found very easy to follow. I almost set the book down to read something else, but I'm glad I didn't, so don't let the first few pages scare you off.

Have you read "Beyond That, the Sea" by Laura Spence-Ash? Comment below and let me know your thoughts on the book or your favorite characters and moments. If you haven't read this novel yet, let me know what WWII historical fiction book impressed you with it's unique story! Thanks for reading, readers!


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