Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash

Set during WWII, this is the story of a child being sent to America to escape the bombing in London, and how that choice impacts the lives of two families forever.

11 year old Beatrix is sent by boat to Boston in 1940, where she stays with the Gregorys, going from her working class parents in London, to an educated middle class family in the US. Beatrix falls in age right between the two sons, and she soon feels right at home and is enfolded into the family and soon belongs. She spends formative years with the Gregory’s and it’s a hard adjustment when she is suddenly and abruptly called to return home at the end of the war. She no longer can stay in Boston, but can she adjust to life in London? Her arrival and departure have changed both families, and as the years pass, the lives of all the people touched by the choice to send her away are irrevocably changed.

As soon as I was a few pages in, I knew that this book was something special. There are a lot of books set in WW2 lately, and a lot of them are really badly written, inaccurate or adhere to the formula of the present/past dual plotlines. A few of these books are genuinely very good stories, and this is one of them. This is much more in the vein of literary fiction than genre fiction.

The book switches between different characters, and something I really liked about this was that it allowed us to see inside the more reticent characters. The author was able to show rather than use dialogue to tell, and it was often quite poignant. Early on in the book, we learn that Beatrix mother didn’t want to send her away, and it was her father’s idea, but he lets Beatrix think it was her mothers idea, leaving Beatrix angry and resentful of the wrong parent. We often see people’s actions and behaviours and misunderstand them, or don’t have all the information. Sometimes people can’t tell us how they really feel. This was done so well in this book. There are quite a few characters whose perspective we get in this book and it’s a long one, though none of it feels like filler, since it’s very well paced. One thing I didn’t like was that the author uses italics and doesn’t use a new line when there is dialogue. (This may have been changed for the published book) It made it a little harder to follow when there was conversation in the story, which I don’t like. It feels a bit “trendy” to not just use normal punctuation, but that’s ok. It does add a little to the sense that we’re inside the characters perspective. As though we are listening to them listen to the conversation, perhaps.

Something that really moved me in this book was the way that Beatrix doesn’t really belong anywhere. In a sense, she has two families who love her, but in reality, she knows her time with the Gregory’s has a time limit, she can’t stay there forever, and on returning home, after years in the US and the kind of life she lived there, she can’t slip easily back into London life and her home there no longer looks the same. I think this is so poignant and bittersweet. In some ways, it feels like the life and family in London are in black and white, and the family in America are in technicolour. There’s so much warmth and colour in the Gregorys house, and in Beatrix parents home, it’s dark, damp, sad and there’s a war on. Her loss to both family’s at different times in the book create a hole that can’t be filled, and there’s a hole in her heart too. This was captured really beautifully.

I also like the way the book showed the masks people wear. Because we are inside the characters, the author really explores all the things they feel and don’t or can’t say and how they present themselves to each other. Who they want to be seen as or how they may act in contrast to what they really want. This is a level of complexity that you don’t see often in characters in books, and most especially not in so many characters. So often people hide how they really feel and have a person that they need to be seen as to their family most especially. It was also a generation who were not able to talk about their feelings and held to more rigid roles, so it’s a wonderful thing to see inside their hearts and minds, and how much they hide and, often quite sadly, long to reach out and connect.

This book made me feel a lot. It’s so poignant, heartfelt, bittersweet, and beautiful. It’s a family saga largely, but it’s also sometimes a romance novel and of course takes in historical fiction as well. This is a lovely literary read, and comes recommended. Also, props to the publisher, Celadon, for the inclusion of the blueberry muffin recipe that it talked about in the book. A great touch.

Read It If: you’ve ever lived in a foreign place and felt like two places could be home. This is a beautiful book about a girl whose presence and absence change the lives of two families forever, and how her life is changed forever too. Recommended.

With thanks to Celadon for the ARC of this book for review.


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