Updated: Jun 29, 2021
I was lucky enough to travel to Hawaii when I was younger, and it was a trip that I will remember forever. I loved that there were stands along deserted stretches of highway where I could get a fresh fruit smoothie, better than anything I had tasted before. And even though I’m sure the Luau I attended was specifically designed for tourists, I still enjoyed the culture, history, and delicious food involved in every moment.
Strong Like the Sea is the story of twelve-year-old Alexis Force, a girl who feels like she is forever residing in her mother’s accomplished shadow. Working in intelligence for the US Navy, Alex’s mother has taught her extensively about codes and cyphers, leaving challenges for Alex to complete whenever her work takes her far away from their home on the island of Oahu. Alex’s latest series of clues is more extensive than any she has ever faced before, and as she follows each one, she learns more about her family and herself than she has ever known. Please see my full review here.
In many stories that incorporate multiple languages, the words outside of the dominant tongue tend to be italicized to draw attention to them. In this story, however, these words are incorporated directly into the narrative, just as native Hawaiians experience them every day. Even though Hawaiian is its own distinctive language, words and ideas blend seamlessly into English to create a dynamic new tapestry that expresses more than either language can do on its own. I love languages so much, and the way this book utilizes language is a beautiful and memorable approach. Even though a glossary appears at the end, the bulk of the included phrases and terms are defined by context within the story itself and are easily comprehended without extra assistance.
Elegantly presented, this story incorporates brilliance in both mental and emotional understanding. As Alex solves the challenges set forth by her mother, she begins by using her mind and ultimately finds strength inside herself that links her intrinsically to her ohana—family not necessarily connected by blood—and the world around her. Bits of history and culture season the narrative and encourage readers to learn more than just what the story includes. From ocean conservation, to code breakers in World War II, to the beautiful and destructive forces of nature, readers come away with a deeper global understanding and humans’ role within it.
Languages themselves are a kind of code, and if you look hard enough, there are messages everywhere. This reality guides Alex’s story as much as it does life in the world outside of that. I highly recommend this lovely coming-of-age tale to middle grade readers who have an interest in language, communication, and the profound love of ohana.
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