Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.
Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.
Vivid and heart wrenching, Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Sea is a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family.
From The Wall Street Journal
Every child learns at school about the dislocation of
families during the Great Depression. Novelist Lauren Wolk brings readers into one such stricken household in Echo Mountain, a lyrical and affecting story.... Amid our own dislocations with the coronavirus, this is a book that will soothe readers like a healing balm.
Winner of the 2018 Scott O'Dell Book Award for Historical Fiction ★ Winner of the 2018 Massachusetts Book Award ★ A Finalist for the 2018 Carnegie Award ★ A Finalist for the New England Book Award ★ An NPR Best Book of the Year ★ A Parents’ Magazine Best Book of the Year ★ A Booklist Editors' Choice selection ★ A BookPage Best Book of the Year • A Horn Book Fanfare Selection ★ A Kirkus Best Book of the Year ★ A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year ★ A Charlotte Observer Best Book of the Year ★ A Southern Living Best Book of the Year ★ A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year ★ An Amazon Best Book of the Year ★ A Goodreads Best Book of the Year Finalist
Excerpt from The New York Times Book Review:
Wolk — author of the Newbery Honor-winning novel “Wolf Hollow” — evokes the mountain environment in language so lovely that long passages read like a novel in verse. … Although this is Depression-era historical fiction, the setting could as easily be today, or tomorrow, or any time a disaster forces a return to the land. Ellie is a strong female protagonist, but she’s not sassy or outspoken, or determined to make her own voice heard. She’s a doer, not a talker. … There’s something refreshing about the quiet strength with which she takes on life-or-death challenges and learns on the fly. Some readers may be put off by the book’s meandering pace or its unflinching depiction of a world where hunting is a necessity. But Ellie is a deeply appealing character, and her story feels right for this moment. A reader who longs to get outdoors will appreciate Ellie’s adventures on Echo Mountain. A reader who wants to make a difference will appreciate the way she rolls up her sleeves and gets things done. And surely there has never been a better time to read about healing, of both the body and the heart.
★ A New York Times Bestseller ★ A 2017 Newbery Honor Book ★ A 2017 Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor Book ★ Winner of the 2016 New England Book Award ★ Winner of the Catholic German Children and Youth Book Prize ★ An ALA Notable Children's Book ★ An NPR Best Book of the Year ★ A Booklist Best Book of the Year ★ Short listed for the Waterstones Award and the Carnegie Award ★ An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of the Year ★ A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year ★ A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year ★ A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year ★ A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book of the Year
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.
After the financial crash, Ellie and her family have lost nearly everything—including their home in town. Forced to start over, Ellie has found a welcome freedom, and a love of the natural world, in her new life on Echo Mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that left her father in a coma. An accident for which Ellie has accepted the unearned weight of blame.
Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.
Critically acclaimed author Lauren Wolk weaves a stunning tale of resilience, persistence, and friendship across three generations of strong women, set against the rough and ragged beauty of the mountain they all call home..
Wolk is the author of the adult novel Those Who Favor Fire (Random House, 1999). For reviews, please visit the Etc. page.
She is also the author of the as yet unpublished winner of the Hackney Award, Forgiving Billy Pilgrim. Here is how it begins.
★ From Publishers Weekly
A girl realizes her standout gifts as a healer in this exquisitely layered historical novel set in Depression-era Maine. After the financial crash forces a tight-knit family of five to move from town to build a cabin on Echo Mountain, a tree-felling accident puts 12-year-old narrator Ellie’s father into a coma. The family’s struggle to survive intensifies, made worse by fears about whether their beloved father—a tailor turned woodsman who, like Ellie, loves the wild—will ever awaken. Complex family dynamics loom large amid day-to-day matters: Ellie’s mother and sister long for their former life and blame Ellie for her father’s state; Ellie, who discovers a gift for healing, further upsets them by trying to startle her father awake. When a dog leads Ellie to “the hag,” a woman who knows about cures and is herself suffering, the girl lends a hand, resulting in further tensions, this time within the interconnected mountain community. Via strongly sketched cabin-life cadences and memorable, empathic characterizations—including, perhaps most vividly, of the wilderness itself—Newbery Honoree Wolk (Wolf Hollow) builds a powerful, well-paced portrait of interconnectedness, work and learning, and strength in a time of crisis.
★ From Kirkus
After losing almost everything in the Great Depression, Ellie’s family moves to the Maine woods on Echo Mountain to start a farm—then tragedy strikes.
Not long after getting them established in their new life, Ellie’s father is struck on the head by a falling tree and lapses into a monthslong coma, his recovery unlikely. Never feeling threatened by the wilderness the way her mother and older sister, Esther, do, Ellie takes over many of her beloved father’s chores, finding comfort and confidence in the forest. She’s fully mindful of her place in the natural world and her impact on the plants and animals she shares it with. After she becomes determined to use the resources of the woods, however novel and imaginative the application, to save her father, conflict with her mother and Esther increases sharply. Led by a dog, Ellie discovers elderly Cate—called “hag” and shunned as a witch—badly injured, living alone in a cabin on the mountaintop. Cate fully understands the 12-year-old’s slightly supernatural sense. Cate’s grandson, Larkin, Ellie’s age, flits in and out of the tale before finally claiming his place in this magnificently related story of the wide arc of responsibility, acceptance, and, ultimately, connectedness. Carefully paced and told in lyrical prose, characters—all default white—are given plenty of time and room to develop against a well-realized, timeless setting. A luscious, shivery delight.
★ From Booklist
It is a magical thing to step into a world created by Wolk (Beyond the Bright Sea, 2017), even without any fantastic enchantment. In this instance, the story of Ellie and her family is a diamond glinting in the rough of the Great Depression, when poverty drives them from town to a more wild existence on a mountainside. Though her mother and older sister yearn to return to civilized life,
Ellie thrives in this new environment. But they all must muster different brands of courage when an accident leaves Ellie’s father in a coma. Though only 12, Ellie steps up to do many of the tasks, such as hunting and fishing, that had been her father’s, all the while remaining determined to jar him back awake by any means possible. Her spirit and empathy eventually lead her far up the mountain to the cabin of Cate, aka the local hag, where Ellie discovers that Cate is herself ill
with a festering wound. Compelled to help Cate as much as her father, Ellie learns and accomplishes more than she knew was possible. Complex and fiercely loving, Ellie is a girl any reader would be proud to have as a friend. Woven with music, puppies, and healing, Wolk’s
beautiful storytelling turns this historical tale of family and survival into a captivating saga.
★ From BookPage
Twelve-year-old Ellie feels at home in the Maine woods of Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain. Her parents lost their home in the Great Depression and were forced to move, along with many neighbors, to the woods, where Ellie learned to hunt, fish and start a fire. Now, Ellie’s skills and confidence put her at odds with her resentful mother and older sister, who miss their former life in town.
Wolk vividly invokes the shock of losing an old way of life—of trading sidewalks for pine-needle paths, of swapping paper currency for barter with haircuts, eggs and firewood. She also sensitively conveys the swirl of emotions surrounding the accident that has put Ellie’s dad in a coma for months and left his family in a state of suspended grief. Ellie’s mother and sister blame Ellie for the accident, and Ellie’s mother copes by discouraging her daughter’s adaptability and curiosity, worrying that she’s becoming too wild.
Despite these hardships, Ellie remains determined to use her skills to keep her family safe and fed and to find a way to wake up her father. Her dubious yet logical efforts on this front are humorous and heartbreaking—and, just maybe, hopeful. Ellie’s life contains some big mysteries, as well. Who is leaving her beautifully carved miniature figurines? Might the “hag” who lives up the mountain know how to heal her father?
Fans of Wolk’s previous novels, including the Newbery Honor book Wolf Hollow, will once again relish the author’s evocative and touching language (Ellie cuts her hair “because the trees kept trying to comb it”) and her gift for revisiting history through the lens of fulsome and fascinating characters. In this complex, memorable novel, Wolk explores themes of social responsibility, modern versus traditional medicine, biological versus chosen family and more.
Through it all, the book pays heartfelt tribute to resilience and resourcefulness. As seen through the indefatigable Ellie’s wise young eyes, no detail, emotion, creature or scrap of fabric on Echo Mountain is too small to be without value.
Forgiving Billy Pilgrim
The Beginning of the Experiment
Somewhere in this world, right now, one giant dog barks madly at the breathy thump of a bottled comet taking flight while a girl still a bit shy of a yard gazes into the crannies of an old boat, thrilled to catch the eye of a simpatico spider. At the same time, thirty-seven years later, this girl finds herself sitting at a stop light, bemused by the bumper sticker on the truck in front of her: “If you can read this,” it says, “thank a teacher. If it’s in English, thank a soldier.” She screams herself silent, her face bathed in blood, while the sky crackles with meteors, the sea rises, and white worms fall from nowhere like fat, voracious seeds. How can she stomach the smile exacted by an iron bit? How can she watch the slow demise of her own best inventions? At every turn, she is baffled by something, not least the endless confusion of being here. But as her experiment unfolds, she feels herself preparing to breathe again. And she finds herself at the bottom of the pool with Billy, forgiving him.
Her name is Ophelia, but she hasn’t called herself this since reading Hamlet in high school. She was often known as Oph when she was little, but for years she has gone by Lia. Everyone spells it Leah, of course, and she always corrects them, even though she feels a certain kinship with Jacob’s homely wife. “It’s like Mia,” she says, “with an L.”
Lia’s an observant woman, always the first to spot the bushy spout of a humpback or to save the wooly bears that tumble like furry marbles in the teeth of her rake. Her eyes are the color of winter moss, their lids lazy, the skin beneath them inclined to pouch, but they’re sharp as a giraffe’s. She wonders if this anatomical blessing makes her aware of what others miss, but how can she see that there are things she doesn’t see?
Much more obvious is the loveliness of the forests and bogs and beaches of Cape Cod where Lia’s made her home. Now, while the leaves are dying beautifully all around her, she tramps through the woods saying goodbye. She loves the slowly rusting oak trees. The steadfast pines. The waxy white Indian pipes and ruddy teaberries that quietly, humbly offer up their persistent beauty.
She worships the vivid blare of toadstools. The cool moss green as limes. The umber necktie the black snake sports at his sunbath. She allies herself with them all.
Lia believes that she so values color in part because she herself feels so drab. Other than the lumpy, purple scar that keeps her from wearing bikinis, and the vivid crimson that stains too many of her memories, Lia is a study in browns and averages, and she considers herself very ordinary. When she once said that she felt drawn to anything that glittered, her friend, Corina, suggested that perhaps, in a former life, Lia had been a queen. To this, Lia said, “Either that or a crow.”
At the sight of a red bird at its bath, or an acre of orange ditch lilies craning their slender necks toward the sun, she is therefore overcome if not with envy, then certainly with longing.
Lia counts her blessings when she wakes one October morning to a salmon-pink sky and clouds pearly as nacre, but it makes her sad to think that many of the earth’s creatures are colorblind and will never know pink or blue or red. She wonders, then, whether there are similar miracles of which she herself will never be aware.
As she enters the high school where she teaches English, she’s thinking of the zinnias that her older son, Sam, planted among her tomatoes when he was little. How they bloomed all summer and beyond, spangles of pure, persistent color, like a lasting, particulate rainbow.
Lia’s juniors have become accustomed to her frequent excursions off the beaten path and therefore take it in stride when she asks, on that October morning, not about their homework or the papers they’re writing but whether they’ve ever considered the nature of color.
“What do you mean?” asks a diminutive boy named Aaron who wears his pants so low on his hips that he often falls when walking up stairs. In this, he’s like many boys. In his gift for earning the trust of other children, he’s unique. It is to Aaron that they come when they have a problem. He always seems to know what to do.
Lia wonders what she would have done if she’d had an Aaron in her life when she was a child and feared nearly everything.
She remembers watching, in second grade, a film about how to survive a nuclear blast. It was simple, really. All she had to do was get under her chair and then, after the explosion, throw her desk through the classroom window and climb out. If she was hungry, all she had to do to avoid radiation poisoning was tip over a loaf of bread and slit open the bottom of the plastic sleeve. The bread in the film was Wonder Bread. The woman demonstrating how to avoid the radioactive dust on the top of the bag was wearing a pretty dress, but it was impossible to tell what color it was because the film was in black and white.
While Lia lay in bed each night and waited for the nuclear missiles that were surely arcing up over the Pole from Russia, headed for a house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, she also imagined that a fire was starting at that very moment, somewhere in the house. And what if there really is a fire but I don’t do anything about it and we all die? she’d ask herself. Then it would be my fault. Despising herself but helpless in the face of her relentless obsessions, she would then creep through the house, sniffing the air, listening for the crackling of flames.
Lia never told her parents about her nightly excursions. She was afraid they’d think she was crazy.
She wished that they all lived in a smaller house, so she and her sister Beth had to share a room. There were, in fact, some nights when she slipped into her sister’s bed for company, for the sound of Beth softly snoring. But Beth outgrew Lia before Lia outgrew her terror. And then she was truly alone.
Thirty-five years later, she tells Aaron, “I’m not completely sure what I mean, the nature of color deserves some thought. Start with what you know.”
The light in this classroom is florescent. It makes the students appear jaundiced and raccoon-eyed. The tables at which they’re clustered are a white dirtied by pencil dust and fingerprints. In the center of the room, a large garbage can catches a slow drip from the ceiling. Because the intake vent for this classroom is located in an alleyway next to a gas station, the air inside smells vaguely of petroleum. Nobody wants to be in this room.
But they’re willing to discuss the refraction of light and the properties of the human eye and the inability of most mammals to see color and to listen when she says, “Suppose color’s a matter of perception and the world is really a place of whites and blacks and grays, like it is in the dark, like it is to many animals, and that other colors exist only in our brains.”
Lia spends time on such topics because she’s learned that if one is willing to look at the world from a fresh perspective, one can be changed forever.
She remembers an episode of The West Wing in which a delegation of mapmakers petitions the White House to reconsider standard depictions of Earth. To make their point, they present the continents as they actually are, in their true dimensions, which aren’t accurately reflected on most maps. They then flip the whole thing upside down and ask the simplest of questions: In a universe as vast as ours, with no real up or down, top or bottom, who decides that the earth should be viewed as we view it? Northerners, presumably.
Taping an upside-down map of the world to the white board, Lia now asks her students this very question.
“Try to think of the planet from this new perspective,” she tells them. “And ask yourselves why that’s so hard to do.”
As Lia and her students consider the world’s paradigms, she finds herself feeding a beautiful bonfire on a sand bar that is quickly being consumed by the tide. She doesn’t know what will happen when the sea submerges the fire, but she’s about to find out.
To her students, she says, “Now I want you, in your groups, to come up with a definition of ‘the present.’”
They’ve just started reading Slaughterhouse-Five. Lia has alarmed them a little with her attitude towards its author, Mr. Vonnegut. She appears to love him. “Wait until you’ve finished the book,” she says, “and then you’ll understand.”
Rereading the novel has made Lia newly aware of the passage of time. She used to have skin like a Dresden doll. Now, her face is edged in sunspots, and one of her pinkish moles has risen into a dome. So why does she continue to think of herself as a younger woman, even when she sees evidence several times a day to the contrary? How is she going to feel when she’s old? Will her mirrors make her leap with surprise?
She often thinks about Billy Pilgrim, the boy in Mr. Vonnegut’s book, who comes to be convinced by aliens that there’s a fourth dimension in which time ceases to be relevant and one is, simultaneously, newborn and corpse and everything in between … and that it is up to each of us to visit ourselves in the moments we like best, or to escape from those we like least. Everything is already decided. Everything’s already happened. Which makes struggle unnecessary. Even foolish.
Lia doesn’t believe this alien philosophy. Like Billy Pilgrim before his conversion, she believes in free will. She believes there’s a way to control almost everything, even if she herself doesn’t always know how. She believes in the struggle, although she is sometimes the first to give in, and even if she didn’t, she wouldn’t like the idea that everything’s already etched in stone. If that were true, she’d have to believe that the one holding the chisel was either a madman or a monster. And she doesn’t.
But Billy’s glad to embrace such ideas because he’s learned that everything hurts less if he believes it’s all beyond his control. If he looks away from what’s disturbing and focuses instead on something pleasant.
She thinks about such things as her students are discussing the nature of time.
“The present is where we are at the moment, in between the past and the future,” says a girl named Stephanie who has a Hello Kitty handbag and a Happy Bunny journal.
On the board, Lia draws a horizontal line with an arrowhead at either end. At the left arrowhead, she writes “past.” At the right arrowhead, she writes “future.” In the middle, she makes a circle on the line and writes “present.”
A boy named Jason, distinguished from the other Jasons in the school by his bottle-blue hair, says, “The circle needs to keep moving into the future constantly or it’ll become the past.”
“Or it’s fixed and everything else is moving,” Stephanie says.
“Either way,” Jason says, “the present is almost too small to measure. Like a split atom.”
The class talks about this for a little while, whether the present even exists at all or is simply where the past and future abut.
Lia waits for them to question the left arrowhead on the white board, the one leading into the past, signifying eternity, but they don’t. She might raise the question but for Caleb, the pale young man lurking in her peripheral vision. God has already given Caleb all the answers that matter. If Lia raises the question of the origins of the world, of people, he’ll hijack this discussion. Lia’s often a fan of discussion-hijackers. But not this time. Not this student.
“We’ll be talking about perception and time as we read Mr. Vonnegut’s book,” she says, erasing the line from the white board. "Reality, too.” She dusts off her hands. “So I’d like you now, in your groups, to list all the different types of reality you’ve experienced in your lives.”
Some of the students want more direction, but Lia believes in giving just enough to get them started. That way they end up all over the place instead of right at her heel. “Begin with what you know,” she says, “and go from there.”
Lia Wayne is forty-two years old. She’s been teaching for only four years. This is her fifth. She had reasons for starting late. In the past couple of weeks, she’s considered several reasons for quitting early. One of them involves white worms falling through thin air.
The students, looking at her, know nothing of the white worms beyond the fact that one of them appeared on Lia’s arm in class one day. It seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. As she stands before them now, she seems to be buzzing slightly. They attribute this to her passion for Mr. Vonnegut. They are only partly right.
As the students are working, Lia finds a bag of Popsicle sticks hidden in her son’s room. She knows without asking that he has kept them so no one will be able to steal his DNA and clone him. The question is: does she laugh at this, or cry?
Five minutes later, Lia wipes her eyes and begins to construct a master list of realities with her students. In the end, it includes physical existence, emotions, dreams, faith, fantasies and imagination, hallucinations (at least one student has had a high fever, another admits to using drugs), memories, theories, hopes, and illusion.
“What about music?” says a guitarist named Stephen whose left hand has elongated fingers because he plays a ’56 Les Paul with a wide neck.
“If music counts, dance counts,” says Sarah, a leggy girl who often wears her pointe shoes to class.
There’s a discussion about art and reality, and the students agree that art can go on the list. And they’re all prepared to admit that in almost any given day, they experience nearly all of the realities on the list, except for, perhaps, hallucination (which draws a snort from the boy who has confessed to using drugs).
“Then this homework assignment should be easy for you,” she says as she hands it out. “I want you to keep a log of every time you migrate from one kind of reality to another. For at least one full day.” When everyone has a copy, she says, “Since Billy Pilgrim experiences so many types of reality, I hope this exercise will help you to become more engaged in the novel.”
Because Lia hasn’t conducted this experiment before, she’s decided to do it along with her students.
She doesn’t know that doing so will save her.
This is the story of where she goes.