Neoma and Jag and their small community are ‘living gentle lives’ on high ground surrounded by the risen sea that has caused widespread devastation. When strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive unannounced, the friends find themselves drawn into a web of secrecy and lies that endangers the way of life of their entire community.
Soon daring, loyal Neoma must set off on a solo mission across the risen sea, determined to rescue her best friend and find the truth that will save her village.
Across the Risen Sea is the latest middle grade adventure novel by Bren MacDibble, set within a small island community surrounded by a rising sea. Strangers arrive unannounced, carrying secrets with them, and then protagonist Neoma must embark on a solo mission across the ocean to rescue her best friend Jag.
In this somewhat dystopian setting, the rising sea has formed an inland sea with small islands. Communities on these islands do not deal with currency or money — they rely on fishing and growing their own food, and they use their boats to scrounge abandoned cities for materials.
Courage and determination are key themes explored in the book, as well as the power of family and friendship, and the importance of trusting your instincts. You do have to stretch your imagination for this one. A crocodile in the boat? A pirate who can out-swim a shark and fight them off when threatened? There are definitely a few moments of absurdity, but what children’s adventure novel doesn’t have these?
“I push through some big double doors and I’m in a room with everything built from shiny steel. There’s a rack with all kinds of glass jars with lots of different coloured herbs and spices and pots and pans on every shelf and giant spoons hanging from hooks, and knives, sharper than any Jag’s got on his belt.”
Across the Risen Sea is written in Neoma’s first person POV, allowing the reader to intimately follow Neoma’s journey across the ocean. Neoma is brave, curious and feisty — she’s got true grit, and she’s not afraid to venture into the unknown. She knows how to hold her own, and she’s got quick instincts that rival the adults around her. Additionally, her voice feels quite unique to the genre. It could be a little polarising with readers — some will love it, some might not — but overall, she drives the story forward with her inquisitive nature and her dogged determination.
One of my favourite parts of the book was when we arrive at the Valley of the Sun. No spoilers, but their home felt really unique and unexpected and I think Bren was really clever at crafting this setting. Children will no doubt find themselves enraptured by the homeland of the Valley of the Sun.
“The storm blows us on, throws waves at our backs, each wave sloshing a little more water and foam into the boat behind us, so I reckon whoever’s in there’s prolly gonna drown, if the boat don’t sink before we get to our bay. Soon the rain joins the waves sloshing at us and the lightning kicks and stomps all around the sea beside us.”
Okay, a couple of things I struggled with in the book. The plot does meander quite a bit — the journey feels quite slow and monotonous, the characters don’t seem overly engrossing for the long run . And I’m wondering — and this is more a ‘big picture’ thought — how fun is this book for kids to read? Much like Bren’s other books, there are messages and themes about climate change, environment and society’s treatment of others during a time of crisis. And whilst this is important to read, is it…fun?
I’ve read all of Bren’s books, and this one just didn’t feel as action-packed full of adventure as the others. An ocean journey to find a lost child means that there is quite a small cast of characters, and I wonder if it’s enough to enthral a young reader. Personally, I found my attention waning because the plot was a little same-same. Will this entice young teen readers? Will it keep their attention long enough to get them to the final page? You don’t have long to engage a young reader, and there’s so much competition out there. I just wonder if this story might perhaps be better suited for the older end of the age demographic, and those who are seasoned readers. I’m not entirely convinced that this book will appeal to reluctant readers.
For ages 9-13.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Across the Risen Sea
Allen & Unwin Book Publishers