Before I go onto the review, I just wanted to state that A-kon 21 starts tomorrow. I know several IBWB readers live in Texas and A-kon has activities that appeal to SF/F readers as well as anime and manga fans. This will be my fifth year to attend and my third year as staff. So if you go and see a staff photographer ninja-named "Anastasia," say hello.
By Heidi R. Kling
Available June 10 from G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Oddly enough, I read SEA the first time while snow was on the ground. This is odd for two reasons: it doesn't snow often in my part of Texas and SEA is a very summery book. Sienna "Sea" Jones is a former surfer still dealing with the death of her mother, who disappeared in a probably airplane crash. Her best friend Spider may want to be more than friends and her dad wants her to fly halfway around the world to help him with therapy for orphans in post-tsunami Indonesia. She doesn't want to go to Indonesia and she certainly doesn't want to fly to get there.
Her opinion doesn't change immediately, but she begins to connect to the children, particularly troublemaker and leader Desi. Soon the two are sneaking around together. The real stength of SEA is Heidi R. Kling's descriptive prowess. As I mentioned in my interview, she writes compellingly both about Sea's father's work and the country itself. Our interest in disasters tends to end when the news stops covering them. Right now our concern is with the BP oil leak. A few months ago it was Haiti. The portrait of a country recovering is different and compelling.
SEA could be maudlin, trite, or treacly. There are no tragedy Olympics - Sea's issues with her mother's death are treated with respect as are the problems of the Indonesian children. Dealing with the PTSD is what's important. Nor are the Indonesians a faceless mass. Desi, despite the cultural differences, is still a teenager. Sea grows especially close to the girls she lives with. Focusing on relationships instead of issues was a good move on Kling's part.
Of course, so much weight is given to the burgeoning romance of Sea and Desi that some readers might be happy with the ending. I think I did like it. At first I felt like it came out of left field, but I believe Kling made it work. I still think it came half out of left field, but it feels emotionally satisfying. In a story where emotions are as important as they are in SEA, that's important.
SEA isn't a light-hearted summer romance. But it is a summer romance. It's immersive and captivating. I would've liked to have seen more of Sea's life in California in order to better understand the transformations she undergoes during her time in Indonesia, but at the same time feel like if Kling did so she might've messed up something that works. SEA feels whole, despite being such a small snippet of Sea and Desi's lives.