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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, Harper. 2018. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"A low whistle tootled through the open window. Like a bird whistle, but different. Alix sat up in Jools's bed, then peeked through the curtains. Nessa was out there, just beyond the bush with the yellow flowers. "Hi!" said Alix. "Shh!" said Nessa. "I'm not supposed to wake you up, but do you want to go to the bakery? My grandma says we can, if it's okay with your mom and dad."

Today is a dreary, windy day ... not an auspicious start for the first long weekend of the summer. I am feeling bad for all those friends who headed to the lake, hoping to boat, swim, barbecue and enjoy the sunshine. For me, it was the perfect morning to read this quiet celebration of family time.

Alix is thrilled to start early in the day on a journey with her sister, Jools, and their parents. It's the start of a weeklong vacation at the beach, something they have never done. Told entirely from Alix's perspective, it is a novel of discoveries and circumstance. Each new chapter focuses on those things that make the whole experience worth remembering for a lifetime.

The beach is not exactly what they were expecting, but so much more. Some of the things that happen are scary, most are marvelous. Readers follow Alix from one day to the next sharing with her what makes life at the beach so special and worthy of a return trip. Ms. Perkins encourages a quiet look at nature in all its beauty while allowing Alix to show emotion at every turn.

The dialogue is spot-on, between child and parent, sister and sister, friend to friend. The language is gentle yet clear, allowing readers to understand this new time and place through Alix's senses and her perception of all that happens. From the first paragraph as the Treffrey family moves from house to car, the text contains a beauty that is almost tangible.

"The bottom of the sky glowed deep electric blue at the far end of Boskey Street. Overhead it was still velvety black, prickled with stars. The houses under the sky, which Alix knew by heart in the daytime, were also dark. Dark like mysteries, or secrets. Friendly secrets. Everyone was asleep."

Can you see it? We all know that darkness. Her storytelling carries us through with beautiful descriptive writing that begs to be read aloud. I found myself stopping to reread portions, and admiring it once more  ... or twice.

There is so much to learn while they are there, and they learn it through observing and through hands-on adventure. After biking to a wildlife preserve and holding an injured falcon, Alix longs to return. When she and her mother do go back, she is both excited and apprehensive when asked if she would like to release the now-healed peregrine. She would, and does.

“She let go with her hands. The weight of the falcon lifted. The falcon realized he was free and raised his magnificent wings.”

What joy she feels in the freedom given the bird. It is not unlike the many opportunities the 'sisters of the salty sea' have savored during this exceptional time with family and new friends. Their world has become much larger. 

Pencil illustrations add appeal, context and humor as the family experiences the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of a truly magnificent week's holiday.

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