Reviews /

The Girl Who Broke the Sea

Authored by A. Connors
Published by Scholastic

The Girl Who Broke the Sea is a tremendously enjoyable, clever and original YA sci-fi adventure thriller set at the bottom of the ocean.

16-year-old Lily’s emotional difficulties manifest themselves in destructive behaviours, from dropping her mum’s earrings down the toilet to pouring lemonade into car petrol tanks. When she takes things too far and is kicked out of school, she ends up accompanying her botanist mother to Deephaven, a cutting-edge deep sea mining rig which is also home to scientists investigating marine life. Deephaven also boasts an elite school for the children of staff on the rig. Lily initially feels like a fish out of water among luminaries such as a Winter Olympics champion and Ernest Shackleton’s great-great nephew; however, she establishes a bond with Evan, whose father Maximus, Deephaven’s Chief Science Officer, is now missing presumed dead. As they attempt to make sense of Maximus’s research, they find themselves making an astonishing discovery with far-reaching implications for all of humanity. But will anyone believe them, and will they escape from Deephaven alive?

I was completely swept away by this story. As fans of the TV series Vigil will attest, an underwater vessel, whether a submarine or a mining rig, provides a great setting for a thriller: the claustrophobia of this enclosed community is palpable and there is a terrific sense of jeopardy which Connors exploits throughout. The plotting is pacy and gripping with surprising twists aplenty. The author’s background as a physicist shines through in his richly-imagined and totally plausible evocation of Deephaven – not just the science and the life forms that Lily and Evan encounter, but also the internal politics and the conflict between business and research. I kept having to look up what was real and what was invented (the author’s science notes here provide a helpful and enlightening companion to the book). I was particularly mesmerised by the euglenoid, but I will let readers discover what this entity is for themselves…

This is also a book with real heart. I found Lily a compelling narrator, combining real vulnerability with a fierce brilliance. Connors writes sensitively about her behavioural problems – these are maybe a little exaggerated, but many readers will identify with her struggle to maintain self-control in the face of crushing emotional demands; she rather reminded me of Zofia from Katya Balen’s superb The Light in Everything. Like Zofia, Lily shows strong self-awareness and develops over the course of the novel, earning the trust and respect of those around her. As one character observes, ‘You’re not as different from the others as you think. Your breakage is on the outside, that’s all. A lot of people keep it inside.’ The novel thus offers the important and hopeful message that those who struggle to fit in still have something valuable to contribute.

Overall, this is an impressive debut and a great recommended read for 11+.