Gillian McDunn’s newest release When Sea Becomes Sky is a masterpiece. If I may be so bold, it feels like her soulmate book.
That might sound like a weird thing to say. It probably is– I don’t know this author! How can I make such a claim? And…What’s a soul mate book, anyway?
Let’s say you pick up a book by an author you’re familiar with. Of course, it is its own story, it has its own unique ways. But there’s more to it than that. You can feel that its this author’s soulmate book. The one they were meant to write. The one that has the biggest piece of their heart. That one. The ONE.
That’s the feeling When Sea Becomes Sky gave me.
This is the kind of book that stays with you. It isn’t just one aspect that gives it staying power. It’s the way McDunn combines craft elements to create an un-put-down-able book. The lyrical writing and the gorgeous setting and the unforgettable characters and the way they look at the world and the way you feel, when you close that cover for the first time. It’s in the way you immediately want to go back to the beginning, start again. It’s that kind of soulmate book.
Siblings Bex and Davey are spending their summer of exploring the coastal North Carolina saltmarsh they call home. But this year is different. A drought is lowering water levels, revealing a mysterious statue. A bridge and the new development it promises to bring threatens their special hangout place. With a mystery and a mission, the siblings set off on a new adventure. But this summer is different, and it’s more than just the drought.
McDunn masterfully evokes coastal Carolina saltmarshes and sibling bonds, tying them together. The setting is a character unto itself, and a part of the characters’ identities. Bex and Davey belong to the saltmarsh. It is part of their home. Bex, for one, doesn’t want that to change. And a new bridge would bring a lot of change.
The sibling bond between Bex and Davey is part of the backbone of this story. Davey encourages Bex to bring others into their adventure with the mystery and trying to stop the bridge development, but Bex wants to keep it just between the two of them.
McDunn does adult character so well, depicting them from the child narrator’s perspective. This stays true in When Sea becomes Sky as well. From Bex and Davey’s parents to their neighbor to other adults in their community, each adult is shown from narrator Bex’s perspective.
All of the characters are well developed, regardless of how much time they spend on the page. From Bex’s rowboat, True Blue, to Davey’s yellow M&Ms to their biology researcher Mom and ferry operator Dad, each character is intricately developed and jumps off the page. From the main characters to Squish the cat, each and every character is thoroughly developed and believable.
There is so much to love in this middle grade book. Art, a mystery, sibling bonds, climate issues, changing family dynamics, changing friendship relationships, changing landscapes. The gorgeous, lyrical way McDunn paints this story is just as satisfying as the story itself. Speaking of painting, there are gorgeous illustrations with the chapter headings and sprinkled in the section breaks.
This book is going to help so many children. The topic of grief is handled gently, kindly, and essentially. There are so many grieving children in our world today. This book is going to be revolutionary for them. It’s going to help them feel seen, validated, and most importantly help them through the hardest losses of their lives.
Ultimately, this book shows such care and shares so much heart. Although it’s only February, I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite reads of 2023.
Thank you to the Bloomsbury Books US for an advanced copy such that I could share my honest opinions in this review.
When Sea Becomes Sky will be available Tuesday, February 28, 2023. You can order it from Bookshop.org here. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.
There will be a content warning below that includes a spoiler. Please do not proceed if you don’t want any spoilers.
This book does include the death of a child. It is not graphically described. The narrator discloses what occurred and when in an age-appropriate way.