cover image Blue Skin of the Sea: A Novel in Stories

Blue Skin of the Sea: A Novel in Stories

Graham Salisbury. Delacorte Press, $15.95 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30596-9

This first novel, which takes place on Hawaii between 1953 and 1966, strings together a collection of short stories to form a rare and exquisite narrative necklace. At its center sits Sonny Mendoza, descendant of Portuguese fishermen living in the tiny village of Kailua-Kona. As the book begins, he lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin Keo, since his widowed father is too busy to look after a young son. The unifying thread running through Sonny's youth is his inexplicable fear of the sea, which is finally resolved when he confronts a buried memory of near-drowning. Learning to swim, seeing death firsthand, exchanging a short-lived but passionate series of love letters, facing a bully--Sonny's adventures defy encapsulation without sounding diminished. The incidents together, however, create an extraordinary mood, distilling the most powerful and universal experiences of adolescence. Salisbury's focus and control in presenting events that punctuate young lives is reminiscent of Margaret Mahy, Cynthia Voigt and Jill Paton Walsh--but with a boyish twist that seems particularly timely given the popularity of current titles on masculinity. Salisbury draws on his own youth in the Hawaiian islands to locate these seminal moments in a landscape that, even as the action progresses, disappears in the face of encroaching resort development. While the exotic setting and rites of passage may remind readers of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John , Salisbury writes in a less rarified style. His fluid, unobtrusive command of language never soars above the intended audience: ``She looked exactly like the old pictures of Hawaiian queens, tall and wide, draped in full-length muumuus, with huge bare feet tough as coconut husks.'' Salisbury's notable debut is sure to garner him many fans who will eagerly await forthcoming works. Ages 10-up. (June) .