Tuesday 1 June 2021

Once, at the edge of the Sea

Once, at the edge of the Sea written by Sue Saliba and illustrated by Ann Shenfield. Paperback $19.99 ISBN 978 0 648919001                                

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Sue Saliba lives on Phillip Island where she writes and protects endangered birds. Her previously published books include the young adult novel Watching Seagulls, and the children’s book The Skin of a Star. Her second young adult fiction, Something, in the World Called Love, won the Victorian Premier’s Award and her third, Alaska, was short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and was a notable book in the CBCA Awards. Sue’s love of nature and animals shines brightly within her words.

Alice left school and the island soon after the birds were gone and headed for the city. Here she could start again and forget everything. But your past travels with you as baggage and hers was inside a box. She meets Esmeralda and their shared friendship sets them both upon a path of self-discovery. 

This is a quiet story with parallel storylines that are lyrically written. Alice, the protagonist, speaks clearly from the heart. As a reader I was taken into Alice’s inner world as much as her outer world. Sue’s writing reminded me of Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. She explores internal worlds at such depth and delicacy that it is captivating. It was a wing, small and pale, so faint, it hardly existed against the white of the paper. At times, Alice herself barely existed. Sue’s poetic writing is beautiful and powerful.

The text that is written without capital letters after the full stops. It is much like one long poem. The spacing makes the text flow easily and smoothly to keep one reading without stopping. There is a certain kind of magic in both the spoken and unspoken words beautifully supported by the unusual design of the text. The opening sentence is simply powerful: Yes, there had been a betrayal. Another strong feature is that some text is typed in bold to stand out at crucial points.

Ann Shenfield’s illustrations are soft, faint, and whimsical. They match the text perfectly. The bird’s footprints that appear throughout the book make the bird’s presence in the story ever present, just like a heartbeat. The flower petals falling are much like tears and heartache. Ann’s illustrations are gentle and just as the character wishes to fade away so do the images.

Once, at the edge of the Sea, is a young adult read that is highly recommended. Sue captures the angst of teenage years and self-discovery beautifully. This book is a wonderful addition to any library or bookshelf.

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