The Sea in Winter

Harper/Heartdrum. Jan. 2021. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062872043; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780063078222.
Gr 4-6–Maisie loves ballet. The studio where she dances is her “sanctuary,” the place where there are no bad days. Now that she’s torn her ACL, a key ligament, she experiences depression. At times, she feels disconnected from her family, and her grades suffer. During an annual midwinter vacation to her stepdad’s native home, she realizes that her dreams of being a dancer may not come true. With the help of her family and therapist, Maisie learns that even though life may not work out the way she wants, she can still move forward. Maisie is Native American. Her mother is Makah, her father was Piscataway, and her stepdad is a citizen of the lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The scenery of the Pacific Northwest is beautifully painted in this insightful #OwnVoices novel, and the text offers some important history. All the characters are relatable, especially Maisie, her stepdad, and brother. However, her experience with depression is very briefly addressed as a passage in her journal and oversimplified. There is also an unrealistic plot point. Recovering from an ACL tear would deter a lot of families from walking on uneven terrain. Yet on their vacation, Maisie and her family walk on rocky beaches, dig for clams in the ocean, “stumble through clay-like mud,” walk up winding boardwalks, and trudge through snow. Maisie is so worried about her ability to dance; it doesn’t seem plausible that her parents would risk her getting hurt again, which inevitably happens.
VERDICT Resonant and well-represented Native American characters, and a few flaws make this a choice for many middle grade collections. Some fans of realistic fiction will enjoy.

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