Review: Sea

Still haunted by nightmares of her mother’s death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her father’s relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post traumatic stress disorder—something Sienna knows a lot about. Since her mother’s plane went missing over the Indian Ocean three years before, Sienna doesn’t do anything if it involves the ocean or planes, so this trip is a big step forward.

But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage, and just so happens to be HOT. When Deni hears a rumor that his father may be alive, Sienna doesn’t think twice about running away with him to the epicenter of the disaster. Unfortunately, what they find there could break both their hearts.–From Amazon

People have been telling stories for thousands and thousands of years. Sometimes it begins to feel like we’ve run out of unique stories to tell. It’s miraculous how many different ways 26 letters can be arranged–but we have to run out eventually, don’t we? There are books that make me wonder how many times I’ve read the same thing before, and others where many elements feel familiar, but the writing is so magnificent that I don’t mind. Heidi R. Kling’s debut novel Sea has quite a few recognizable features–dead mother, strained relationship with father, love triangle–and yet it is unlike anything I have ever read before.

With all of the hype surrounding this book in the months preceding its release, I knew it had to be something special. Kling’s cast of well-rounded characters make this book so charmingly irresistible. Sienna, Deni, and Elli, especially, are the kind of characters who stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. In this case, though, my favorite “character” was Indonesia itself. The customs, culture, and language of Indonesia were beautifully woven into the novel. You could close your eyes and feel yourself in the steamy and exotic setting, hear the traffic of motors darting around on the streets and the chatter of children playing soccer, and smell the fluffy rice and (hopefully) chicken curry. Sea allowed me to travel vicariously to a place I probably wouldn’t normally be brave enough to visit on my own, and I am grateful for the opportunity to go “sightseeing” through words, if nothing else.

I am also thankful for a YA book that takes readers outside of the familiar and deposits them into a situation that is of great global importance. Many teen readers were probably barely aware of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004; most teens don’t think about what they can contribute to relief organizations after a natural disaster. Sea humanizes the natural disaster through the fictionalized stories of those who experienced it, making it come alive in a way that helps readers truly understand what occurred. Removing the emotional detachment people often feel after these disasters is one of the greatest ways Kling could attract interest from people who might be able to help out. Sienna and Deni also show how much people of any age can contribute to a relief effort. I don’t think I have seen any other fiction that deals with this particular natural disaster, nor do I see much YA that covers global events outside the US, and I’m especially sure that I haven’t seen any that managed to do so with such realism.

I would love to see more YA books like Sea that not only have a beautiful story, but also offer cultural learning opportunities. Books are often described as mirrors or windows, but by placing an American teen in a foreign setting, Kling’s book is a little of both.

Quotable Quotes from Sea

“I wanted to tell him that you can meet someone and they can change you life forever, even if you have known him for a short while, that when you leave, you’re a different person than before you met him…”

“I’m sitting alone on the other side of the world talking to a sea turtle that might be my mom. The boy I love is with the girl he loves, and the girl he loves may not be me. If I was halfway to Crazy before, I’ve fully arrived now.“

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