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*Home to the Sea* by Chester Aaron - young adult book review

Home to the Sea
by Chester Aaron
Young adult 125 pages Brown Barn Books September 2004 Paperback    

Chester Aaron opens Home to the Sea with high tension. Thirteen-year-old Marian Conroy is deathly ill, her lungs filling up with water, her temperature far below normal. Her parents and the family doctor are both concerned. As only her mother knows, there is reason for concern. Marian is undergoing a transformation, changing into something inhuman

With a deft, strong narrative, Aaron captures the stress of medical problems and the strain of the mysterious. The family bickers, pulls together, falls apart. The supernatural tension is increased by Marionís apparent innocence and her almost overwhelmingly normal personality. The story is told through naturally broken conversations, with Marian and her friend Kathy chatting on normally as family argue around her and Marianís own body remakes itself.

And then for three years, nothing happens. Marianís story goes into stasis, with nothing to show for all the drama until her senior year in college.

When her story does begin again, it seems as though itís being written by another person. All the tight family drama built up in the first half of the book is left lying or settled without a word; Marian herself becomes portrayed as cold, alien, and eager to carry the whole book on her shoulders.

Like Marion herself, Home to the Sea suffers by being caught between extremes. The plot is brief, and Aaronís brutal cutting of all but the most absolutely necessary dialogue makes the book feel like a short story stretched to fill a small novel. At the same time, thereís a distracting need for more detail and plenty of room for further of exploration of Marion, her family, and the effects of the condition. At times, the whole thing feels like a detailed outline. Aaron also sacrifices some of the storyís raw power in the name of making Marianís transformation a truly alien experience. Putting her mermaid experiences outside of human understanding is a daring move and does drive home the strangeness of her transformation. Sadly, it removes any chance of real empathy with the main character when she behaves with no sign of real human feeling.

Having bled so much of the power from his characters in the middle of the book, and having given the answer to Marianís transformation mystery almost at once, thereís little strength left to the end of the tale. But with a sudden resurgence of interest in detail, Aaron pulls off a bittersweet, almost haunting ending. Itís a frustrating reminder of what could have been, if Home to the Sea had only been given a little more room to grow.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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