afro-caribbean, fantasy, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Reads: Josephine Against the Sea

Josephine Against the Sea (Scholastic Inc)
Written by Shakira Bourne

This first book in a new middle-grade fantasy series begins with the genuine world conflict of watching your widowed parent start a new relationship. Eleven-year-old Josephine is not ready to see her father move on from her late mother quite yet, which distresses her immensely. Once her mom died, life seemed to get so much more complicated. She lives in Barbados, her dad is a fisherman, and Josephine passionately wants to play cricket on a real team. Everything changes when Maris comes into their lives, a beautiful & mysterious woman who wants dad all to herself. Josephine suspects her potential new stepmother is more than she seems on the surface and begins researching Caribbean folklore to determine what she is up against.

Josephine Against the Sea is a very well-plotted piece, taking its time and building up suspense. We get plenty of space to meet Josephine and the people that populate her world in Fairy Vale. Of course, there’s her dad, gruff at first but ultimately a softie. Her best friend is Akhai, a young man on the autism spectrum. His mom, Miss Mo, is superstitious and knowledgeable about the creatures that inhabit the waters and the land. We get to know them all before Maris shows up on the scene, but she steals the show when she does.

With this book, we’re being presented with a point of view often ignored in popular media, Afro-Caribbean culture. Children from outside this culture will be introduced to cricket, aspects of island life, and lots of fairy tale creatures from outside the limited European canon. This story comes out of author Shakira Bourne’s childhood with fantastical elements added for flourish. The characters all come from real people she knew mashed up into these new larger-than-life creations. There are also some familiar elements for us children of the 80s and 90s with Bruce Coville’s My Teacher is an Alien series. Like those books, a child is desperately trying to convince the other adults one of them is not what they seem. If you’re interested in a fresh new fantasy world that isn’t recycling many oft-used tropes, this has the potential to be the start of something big.

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