Lena, The Sea and Me is a sensitive coming-of-age story in translation.
Set on the Norwegian coast, Trille and Lena are close friends and neighbours. Having grown up by the sea, it runs through their veins, and the two children are inseparable. However, tensions rise when Trille takes a liking for new girl Birgit from the Netherlands. The year that follows rises and falls with the waves, and sees raft building, football, babies, music lessons, storms, and heroics all play their part. It’s a turbulent year, but the story concludes in a pleasing cyclical way.
Written by Maria Parr and translated by Guy Puzey, the book is tender and has an emotional depth that will resonate with many readers.
As the novel progresses, Trille’s eyes open, not just to a wider world, but to new emotions and experiences. These can be awkward, like saying the wrong thing to a girl, or joyous. When Birgit throws Trille a smile, the reader glows with him, reminding you of all the times we’ve all desperately tried to impress someone.
Although told in the first-person via Trille, it’s Lena who’s in many ways a more interesting character. For starters she’s hilarious, always speaking her mind, and strong-willed. But Lena hides a vulnerability. She loses her place on the football team, she can never live up to her mother’s musical aspirations, and she’s only just started calling her step-father ‘dad’. Her outspokenness is charming, and she’s involved in one of the funniest chapter transitions I’ve read.
Not shying away from honesty, Parr also touches on a subject rarely, if ever, mentioned in children’s texts. When Trille starts to worry about his mum’s health, Lena explains to him about the menopause. This frank discussion is just one of the many conversations that helps create a sincere and touching representation of friendship.
Appealing to both boys and girls, Lena, the Sea and Me shows just how much growing up happens in the final year of primary school. School staff will know this already, the children won’t, and they’ll want to know it’s all completely normal.
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