The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong
Published by Puffin. May 2010
Available in paperback and eBook
I have wanted to read this book for over a year now and it did not disappoint!
Herlong tells the desperate tale of a family grieving for their mother who was killed in a car accident. The father, overwhelmed with grief, is unable to help his three children, Ben 15, Dylan 11, and Gerry 5 deal with their loss. His remedy is to sell their home, take a year off from his teaching position and take the family on a year-long sailing adventure on board The Chrysalis in the Bahamas.
The narrator, Ben, is devastated. He feels helpless to stop the events, angry at his father for being the Captain both on and off the ship and fearful of losing his memories and his mother’s belongings.
There are times when Ben is able to enjoy their trip; swimming, exploring, playing on the beach with his brothers but these times are often over shadowed by his anger and frustration when an board the small sailboat.
About six months into the trip Ben’s dad literally changes the course of their journey. The events that unfold are gripping and the reader is in the boat for the duration of the trip!
This book would be a great recommendation for independent reading or to read in literature circles. Herlong’s novel is a great conversation starter. I am interested to hear the middle school reader’s opinions on the father and his reaction to his wife’s death. With my students I would discuss empathy and how Herlong gets the reader to empathize with Ben and his family. The name of the boat and its symbolism will also be interesting to students. The actual journey and the emotion journey that Ben and his family take is also something to discuss with our students and parents with their children.