Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash
Historical Fiction | Coming of Age
Last year, Celadon Publishers invited me to participate in their Read Together Initiative, and I jumped at the chance! I had never done a buddy read before, and was excited to give this new style of reading a shot — even more so, when I read the blurb for the book we’d be reading, Beyond That, The Sea by Laura Spence-Ash.
Beyond That, The Sea is an incredibly impressive debut novel. When I first read the blurb for this story, it immediately reminded me of the plot of a favorite childhood trilogy — the Guests of War by Kit Pearson. The first third of Beyond That, The Sea felt very reminiscent of that story as it focuses on Bea as a young teen throughout the war, living apart from her parents but falling into the rhythms, life, and hearts of another family across the sea. The author was able to capture the complex emotions of family and childhood innocence mixed with the realities of war and grief.
As the story progresses, the timeline continues from the 1940s all the way into the mid-sixties. With short chapters that alternate perspectives between Bea and the various family members, there is a lot of complexity and depth to each character. Although it partially takes place during the second world war, the story isn’t your typical WWII historical fiction but rather a touching family saga and coming-of-age novel. The emphasis is much more character-driven, focusing on the way their experience during the war changed and shaped them afterward.
Also, you know you’re getting older when the characters you really feel for the most are the mothers… Millie’s perspective absolutely tugged at my heartstrings, as I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to make the decision to send your child across the ocean to keep them safe. And my heart sympathized for Nancy too, who opened her home to a child for five years, knowing that eventually the war would end and they would have to part.
Beautifully written, this book also had some lovely stylistic choices. The perspectives from each character are entirely in third person and places dialogue in italics rather than quotation marks. While this isn’t everyone’s favorite style, I loved what it added to this story as it created a very poetic feel to the novel.
The other fun thing I loved about this book is the little timeline across the bottom of each page. This really adds to the reading experience and makes it so easy to see the passage of time. As an avid reader of historical fiction and books spanning vast timelines, I adore this feature and hope to see more creative ideas like it in the future.
Sad but beautiful, Beyond That, The Sea is one for the book clubs this spring!
Fans of character-driven historical novels with themes of love, heartache and family.
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Book provided courtesy of Celadon Publishers. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
(From the publisher): As German bombs fall over London in 1940, working-class parents Millie and Reginald Thompson make an impossible choice: they decide to send their eleven-year-old daughter, Beatrix, to America. There, she’ll live with another family for the duration of the war, where they hope she’ll stay safe.
Scared and angry, feeling lonely and displaced, Bea arrives in Boston to meet the Gregorys. Mr. and Mrs. G, and their sons William and Gerald, fold Bea seamlessly into their world. She becomes part of this lively family, learning their ways and their stories, adjusting to their affluent lifestyle. Bea grows close to both boys, one older and one younger, and fills in the gap between them. Before long, before she even realizes it, life with the Gregorys feels more natural to her than the quiet, spare life with her own parents back in England.
As Bea comes into herself and relaxes into her new life—summers on the coast in Maine, new friends clamoring to hear about life across the sea—the girl she had been begins to fade away, until, abruptly, she is called home to London when the war ends.
Desperate as she is not to leave this life behind, Bea dutifully retraces her trip across the Atlantic back to her new, old world. As she returns to post-war London, the memory of her American family stays with her, never fully letting her go, and always pulling on her heart as she tries to move on and pursue love and a life of her own.
As we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, Beyond That, the Sea emerges as a beautifully written, absorbing novel, full of grace and heartache, forgiveness and understanding, loss and love.