Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thousand Shades of Blue

Victoria, BC: Orca Books, c2008.
240 p.

I got this YA novel from the library a couple of weeks ago, and as many of you noticed, the cover art is beautiful. It's collage work by Janice Kun, and I really think it reflects the tone of the story; wide-open, tropical, with a strong dark outline of a teenage girl as its focus.

The story revolves around Rachel, the middle child of a struggling family from Hamilton, Ontario. There are simmering issues in this family that we slowly become aware of -- primary in these is the fact that the oldest daughter Emma is brain damaged and has been put into an institution. This trauma is shattering the family, and their father comes up with the brilliant idea that they should take a year-long sailing trip to the Bahamas. As Rachel says:

The reason we were in the Bahamas in the first place was, according to my parents, to spend quality time together as a family. Don't laugh. Although, why not? Four people who could hardly stand each other on a good day moving on to a small boat together? I would have laughed if it wasn't my life that was getting turned upside down.

But this journey leads to self-examination and a tentative family connection by the end. The conclusion was very well done, not pat or simple, but fraught with complexity and yet possibility. I enjoyed the novel; the writing style was realistic, delineating each character believably. Rachel has a strong presence, and although she is full of teen angst, she is also a good kid, and clearly still part of her family. Her voice is at the exact right pitch; obviously teenaged and not full of unlikely adult insights. Her younger brother (wonderfully geeky Tim) and her parents are each individuals as well, and their interrelationships are not perfect but entirely comprehensible. It's actually a nice family to read about -- complex without stereotypes, a family you are pulling for. All of the information about sailing, the boat itself and the waterways they travel, is part of the story, and is fascinating and atmospheric. Stevenson doesn't fall into the trap of sticking in dull research just to get it in there; each element adds to the book.

The storyline develops the topics of autonomy, responsibility, sexual mores, and basic angst. It's well-done and brings up the idea of tolerance of shades of grey in life; in the title drop, Rachel muses that just as in the depth of ocean water:

Two feet and ten feet are shades of blue as different as misery and bliss, but when you are floating somewhere in between, it's not so easy to know if you have enough: enough happiness, enough love, enough trust. Our family is far from perfect, but maybe there's still enough there to keep us going. Maybe there's enough water under our keel to keep us afloat.

It's a well-written, original tale of a year in a family's life. Recommended.


  1. sounds like a good read from the library and that cover is just stunning!

  2. Serena - it was a lucky choice! Hope you'll enjoy it too when you get a chance to read it.


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