cover image A SEA SO FAR


Jean Thesman, . . Viking, $15.99 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89278-5

Thesman (Tree of Bells) starts out strong but later falters in her tale of two teenage girls, opposite in personalities and backgrounds, brought together after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. At first the narrative alternates focus among three characters: 15-year-old Kate, the orphaned daughter of Irish immigrants, who must leave high school to support herself, her aunt and 16-year-old Jolie, a coddled invalid whose mother dies in the quake. The opening quickly sets up the contrast between the girls' two worlds, with the errant poor dragging their sparse belongings while the Russian Hill wealthy seem to be holding an outdoor tea party, comfortably ensconced in their furniture as they watch the rest of the city burn. Thesman effectively weaves together these separate strands, even arranging a chance sighting before the girls meet. Kate, ever practical and lured by the promise of a journey to Ireland, takes a job as Jolie's companion, even though she finds Jolie "the most spoiled, rude, insufferable snob she had ever met." The girls do develop a friendship, but as the novel progresses, the relationship seems a bit melodramatic and does not demonstrate the intimacy that the narrative claims. Unfortunately, in the end, both the plotting and character development come to seem implausible. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)