STRONG LIKE THE SEA, by Wendy S. Swore, Shadow Mountain, May 25, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
A teen must learn to overcome her fear of the ocean in Wendy S. Swore’s latest middle-grade novel, Strong Like the Sea.
Even though twelve-year-old Alexis was born in Hawaii, she won’t surf or swim with her friends-not since the ocean and its hidden creatures swept her out to sea. Instead, she grabs her best detective hat and decodes her mom’s latest challenge.
Alex’s mom works in counterintelligence and leaves codes, ciphers, and puzzles behind for Alex to solve, always with a “treasure” at the end. It’s a brilliant game between them, and Alex loves figuring out her mom’s puzzles — especially the tricky ones — but when an emergency at sea puts her mom in possible danger, solving the next one suddenly feels far more urgent.
Friends help as Alex races to decipher each clue before time runs out, but when the trail leads to grumpy old Uncle, his enormous dog Sarge, and a sea turtle unlike any other, the challenge changes into something bigger than any before. With storms on the horizon and lives on the line, Alex must face her fears to solve Mom’s challenge and save those she loves. With her ohana to help, she must be strong like the sea. —Synopsis provided by Shadow Mountain
In Strong Like the Sea, setting is everything. The ocean, sand, rocks, plants, and even the bugs are tangible in author Wendy S. Swore’s hands. For those who’ve never been to Oahu, the island comes alive. For those who have, it’s as if memories of the North Shore, Laie, and Kahuku play out in front of your eyes. You feel the rain and hear the ocean. All of the senses are covered.
Alex comes across as a bit insular, failing to notice anyone else’s problems other than her own. In fact, it’s only through her mother’s puzzle that Alex realizes the depth of Uncle’s problems. However, it feels as if the puzzles are also a part of that limited viewpoint. When she has something to solve, Alex’s focus narrows a lot.
Alex is surrounded by a good support system, though. Her friends, for the most part, are willing to help however they can. There’s not a lot of character development on their part, but they add a lightness throughout.
The most rewarding relationships, however, are those with Auntie and Uncle, who seem to have a real sense of how Alex is feeling.
On the other hand, Alex’s parents seem so focused on their own lives, that Alex often comes second. Swore seems to know this, and has tried to add a balance, particularly when it comes to conversations with Alex’s father. But the amount of pressure Alex puts on herself to be like her mother, and her mother’s expectations feel incomplete.
As with Swore’s other middle-grade novels — A Monster Like Me and The Wish and the Peacock — Strong Like the Sea, the writing is clear and welcoming. It’s a fast read that will especially appeal to readers who like solving puzzles.
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