Despite recurring nightmares about her mother's death and her own fear of flying, fifteen-year-old Sienna accepts her father's birthday gift to fly to Indonesia with his team of disaster relief workers to help victims of a recent tsunami, never suspecting that this experience will change her life forever.
Here are the writing lessons I learned from this book:
- Hint at history: Sienna (aka "Sea") hints at a romantic history with her bff's hunky older brother, Spider (love that name). It was just a hint, but I was curious and wanted to know what went sour between them, and why Sea now keeps her distance from the likable surfer dude.
- Establish crippling fear early: Sienna's mom disappeared in a plane crash over the Indian Ocean, and now Sienna is terrified of flying and the sea. When her father buys her a plane ticket to visit Indonesia, we already know this is an epic fear of Sienna's.
- Use real tragedy as a plot point: This story takes place during the aftermath of the horrific tsunami of 2004. While reading the story, I remembered the news images, and how entire towns had been wiped out. It added authenticity to the story.
- Early empathy: In the opening pages, we learn about Sienna's mom's death. The main character doesn't feel sorry for herself, but she definitely has lingering scars. The reader empathizes with her, and wishes things were better for her.
- Create shared experiences between characters: Sienna helps in an Indonesian orphanage, where kids who have lost both parents in the tsunami now live. Although she still has her father, Sienna relates to the orphans, and their extreme sense of loss.
- Show character through sacrifice: Toward the end of the story, Sienna is faced with a decision--keep the truth to herself and hurt someone she loves, or share information and break her own heart. It's a tough choice, and Sienna's character is revealed when she makes her final decision.
- Consider a story within a story: Spider and Sienna remember a story they were told as children--a story about how their town, El Angel Miguel, got its name. It begins with a sea captain in the 1800s whose "great and only love died very young. He was so heartbroken that he vowed to never step foot on land again. He'd sail the seas forever and never return to the homeland that stole his true love." For a moment I was taken out of the larger story, and enjoyed this little sidebar.
Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer, wrote this: "Sea is a richly woven story as turbulent and beautiful as the sea itself...A touching and romantic debut."
Have you read Sea? And what are your opinions of the writing lessons? I'd love to hear your thoughts.