REVIEW: The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
In this evocative and heartwarming novel for readers who loved The Thing About Jellyfish, the author of I Can Make This Promise tells the story of a Native American girl struggling to find her joy again.
It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.
Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.
But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?
Dear Ms. Day,
Based on the cover and blurb, I had thought I was going to read a shorter picture book. Instead when I downloaded it, wow it turned out to be a short novel. Once I got started, though, I soaked it up almost in one reading.
Seventh grader Maisie is struggling to recover from an ACL injury she got in her ballet class. The fact that she partly blames herself for it only adds to her suppressed anger and frustration. She’s had her surgery, done her exercises, gone to PT, not strained it, and the end might be in sight. News from her physical therapist that she’s coming along well and might be able to return to classes by next fall buoys her up.
The next day, she and her blended family of mom, step-dad and half-brother head north to visit tribal lands. Everyone’s excited – except Maisie who goes along but without that much enthusiasm. She is thrilled to see a whale off the coast and some ancient rock glyphs that her mom points out as she tells about a tragedy the Makah tribe suffered centuries before. But Maisie’s not out of her own woods just yet.
I enjoyed the writing style which took me into the heart of Maisie and of her family. Her struggles are something that anyone who’s ever deeply wanted something only to see it at risk will understand. Maisie isn’t perfect – at times she’s mulish, angry, and willing to lash out. Her stepfather tells of how, after he had a bad childhood, his grandfather – his See-yah – became Jack’s guardian because “hurt people hurt [others].” When Maisie hurts physically and emotionally, she can act out.
Maisie also felt real. She thinks she knows exactly what she wants in life – ballet – and sees no need to keep studying “Classic” books by dead guys or what on earth algebra will ever do for her. Now that this might not happen and isolated from what she loves doing and from her friends, suddenly she’s unbalanced and flailing.
She does have some strong support on her side in her mother and stepfather plus a younger – and at times exuberant – brother who all care deeply for her. Deeply enough that they won’t take any guff or bad manners from her when her emotions get the better of her. The loving family is a true strength of the book. It’s also good to see Maisie’s mom talking about how therapy helped her over the death of Maisie’s dad and urging her daughter to go to some sessions.
In the end, Maisie has to be willing to face her battle and matures because of it. Maybe her dream is still within reach but she becomes flexible and open to trying some new things and perhaps changing direction. The end is a little bit rushed with a “four months later” chapter but Maisie appears to be headed in a better direction and finding her feet in life. B+