There's a point in midwinter that everyone hates. Snow days have gotten boring. Hot chocolate has begun to taste like chalk. Your nose is perpetually cold, your sweatshirt has begun to smell ever so faintly of wet dog, and you're beginning to think that you'll never feel the sensation of hot sun on your skin ever again.
So you begin to dream of the Bahamas. The gentle "plop" of a coconut as it falls onto the soft sand. The lapping of the waves. The breeze through the tropical flowers. The roar of an angry Atlantic storm as it fills your boat, forcing you to spend the next weeks on an abandoned cay eating iguana…
Wait. What was that last one?
Oh, that was just what happens in The Great Wide Sea, otherwise known as The Book That Will Make You Happy You Live Safely on Land in Denver/Duluth/Detroit, Even in Mid-February.
The setup: a father and his three boys take a year off to sail around the Bahamas. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Except…well, it ain't exactly a Carnival cruise. This is a teeny, tiny, leaky boat called the Chrysalis, captained by a grieving father who may or may not be in touch with reality. The crew is three brothers who have varying degrees of hostility toward their dad and one another. We're not here to name names, but let's just say someone gets lost at sea, someone else falls off a cliff, a third person is attacked by a shark, and literally everyone comes this close to drowning more than once.
Worst. Vacation. Ever.
But luckily for us, bad vacations make for interesting stories. The Great Wide Sea got some rave reviews when it was published back in 2010. It even made the American Library Association's list of Best Books for Young Adults. This was author M. H. Herlong's first book, by the way; she's since wrote a second novel about Hurricane Katrina. (Guess she has a thing for storms.) (Source)
So get cozy under your blanket, find something hot to drink that isn't the same boring ol' Swiss Miss (we're on a serious hot cider kick right now), and crack open The Great Wide Sea. We promise that halfway through, you're going to want to go outside—yes, even if it's wintry-mixing or raining buckets—just to remind yourself that, however chilly Seattle/Syracuse/Sacramento is…sometimes it's better than a trip to the Bahamas.
If you've ever known a cat, you probably know how much they hate change. Change their food? They'll leave you fun presents—like half a dead mouse—on your pillow. Move their kitty-bed? They'll protest by falling asleep on your laptop. Change the location of their litterbox?
And most of us humans are the same way…though it may be less obvious. (Fortunately, we don't cope with stress by peeing in suitcases.) If we're lucky, we have a safe place to live, friends and family we can count on, and a steady supply of good eats—basically, all that stuff that comes together to form a solid base on which we can build the rest of our lives.
The problem is that no one's lucky all the time. Houses can be sold, or repossessed, or burned down. Parents can get sick or move away, and someday they'll die. There may even be times when food and water, the basic tools we need to stay alive, may be out of reach.
In The Great Wide Sea, we watch Ben's life get stripped of those things one by one. His situation goes from bad to worse to even worse than that. First his mom dies, shaking his family to its core. Then his father rips Ben and his brothers away from their familiar lives to spend a year on the wild, unpredictable sea.
Eventually, they lose their dad…then the boat…and then their food.
By the time Ben is eating rations of skinned iguana for breakfast, you start to get the sense that he would totally pee in a suitcase, if only he had one.
Point is, things change, and it's not always for the better. Ben and his brothers survive all that tough stuff by dealing with one problem at a time. They sail through the storm as best they can. When the boat crashes, they salvage supplies and move on. When their food runs out, they find more.
They keep calm and carry on.
That's solid life advice, right? Whether you're faced with a breakup or the zombie apocalypse, the day will come when you, dear Shmooper, have to deal with a difficult change. You'll weather the storm just like Ben does: one skinned iguana at a time.
Or one step at a time. Same diff.
The Author's Website
Check out M. H. Herlong's website, which has info on her and The Great Wide Sea.
A Sailing Glossary
Can't tell your starboard from your boom? This list might come in handy.
An Interview with the Author
M. H. Herlong talks about her two novels and what they have in common.
A Short Review
Read this take from the Kirkus Review.
The Other Book Trailer
There isn't a book trailer for The Great Wide Sea, and the author seems to be a bit camera shy. Consolation prize: here's the trailer for her other book, Buddy.
A Radio Interview with the Author
Radio personality Fred Kasten talks with M. H. Herlong.
Meet the Author
Here's M. H. Herlong, at your service.
Judge the Book by Its Cover
Well, what do you think?