Recommended for ages 10+
Twelve year-old Eliot is dreading summer vacation this year: his parents are shipping him off to his great-uncle’s fishing village in Point Aconi, in a remote area of Nova Scotia. Summer starts off pretty rough: his uncle is cranky, Eliot has to crew his fishing boat, which means he’s up before the sun is, and he’s not the most able-bodied crew member. Plus, there are bullies who can’t wait to get him alone and beat him up, just for being from somewhere different. This is a summer vacation? Slowly but surely, though, Eliot starts seeing Point Aconi through different eyes; he starts to see the place that his mother claims changed her life. Is he going to run back to his home in Lakefield when summer’s over, or will Point Aconi leave a little piece of itself in him?
Sea Change is a gorgeous coming-of-age story. It’s a graphic novel, but in a completely different sense from what pops into most people’s heads when they hear the words “graphic novel”: written in prose with quirky, evocative drawings in shades of blue, black, cream, and hot pink, the words themselves become part of the graphics: a curve, coming out of Eliot’s mouth as he describes being sick; following the trajectory of his uncle’s beard; morphing into a fishing line, where a day’s catch is hanging out to dry. The words and illustrations gel beautifully together to create an entire reading experience that will draw you in and leave you thinking of your own summer vacations. It’s all here: going fishing, swimming at the local swimming hole, a group of kids running barefoot and having fun, and the first blush of a summer romance. Skillfully woven into the story are some more serious topics about families in crisis.
This would make a great first book to introduce at the beginning of the next school year – don’t come at me with torches, I know we’re barely into summer vacation! – when the dreaded “what I did on my summer vacation” essays are assigned, maybe ask your readers to create art with their words and pictures. A picnic blanket, with the meal itself marching around the blanket, describing the treats laid out; words wandering up the edge of a beach umbrella or tossed on the sea, describing a day at the beach.
If you’re a kid, you’ll enjoy reading about another kid’s adventures over a summer break. If you’re an adult, read this book and just bask in the nostalgia of summers gone by. Then go create some new ones with the people in your life.
Frank Viva’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times and The New Yorker. He’s also authored the TOON Book, A Trip to the Bottom of the World. Sea Change has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness, and Publishers Weekly has also designated it one of the Best Books for Summer 2016. TOON offers a free, downloadable discussion guide for parents and educators.