cover image Ocean Within (Tr)

Ocean Within (Tr)

V. M. Caldwell. Milkweed Editions, $6.95 (236pp) ISBN 978-1-57131-624-0

Caldwell's first novel, told from the perspective of 11-year-old Elizabeth Lawson, offers an insightful yet somewhat limited view of a reticent foster child. Recently adopted, Elizabeth is overwhelmed when she, her three new siblings and a mass of Sheridan cousins gather for an annual month-long visit at Grandmother Sheridan's house by the sea. Elizabeth feels like an outsider and, though quietly cooperative during the reunion, she refuses to participate in family rituals and games. Her favorite times are spent by herself at the ocean, perched on a rock while the others swim and play on the beach. Most of the Sheridans are frustrated by Elizabeth's seeming indifference, but perceptive, firm Grandmother (whom Elizabeth secretly calls ""Iron Woman"") and youngest cousin Petey never give up trying to draw her out of her shell. At first, readers may, like Elizabeth, find it difficult to differentiate individual personalities from among the crowd of happy, bubbly Sheridan children; but as the story progresses, the characters' distinguishing traits become visible. Still, the occasionally overwritten narrative (e.g., when Elizabeth offers to help Petey with his homework, ""Hope warred against disbelief in his eyes. Hope won, and he nodded"") leaves many questions unanswered concerning the protagonist herself. Little information is given about her past, nor is much evidence offered as to why her new parents are so eager to adopt her. Yet her discomfort and yearning to belong somewhere will be strongly felt. If Elizabeth's motivations and history are muddy, her emotions are crystal clear. Ages 8-13. (Sept.)