cover image West of the Sea

West of the Sea

Stephanie Willing. Viking, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-46557-8

Willing’s sparkling debut incorporates profound family dynamics, ghostly dinosaurs, a shape-shifting cryptid, and Celtic mythology, culminating in a suspenseful, innovative read. Eleven-year-old Haven West’s mother has been “a mood ring stuck on the blues” since Haven’s grandparents died suddenly a year ago. Mama has been acting strangely as well; she spends long hours in the bathtub, and Haven often catches her muttering things like “my shape is trapped in the rock, what we need is in the air, but my power is in the water.” Even more oddly, when Haven saw her last, Mama looked like a humanoid lizard. Then Mama vanishes. Accompanied by her environmentally conscious teenage sister Margie and kind, puzzle-solving tween neighbor Rye Wilson-Ruiz, the trio steal a food truck and set off across Texas to search for Mama. Their quest turns dire, though, after Haven briefly transforms into a lizard herself, prompting questions about the siblings’ heritage. Willing skillfully balances the narrative’s inherently fantastical underpinnings with a nuanced cast whose grounded challenges—including issues surrounding coming out and mental health—add ample heart to this road-trip adventure. The West family is white; Rye is Black and Latinx. Ages 8–12. Agent: Alexandra Levick, Writers House. (Aug.)