In the “second world” dwell people who did not arrive of their own volition. But in that world exist communities and harmony, between and among the Raftworlders (with dark brown skin and tightly curled hair) and the Islanders (with lighter-brown skin and straight hair).
Access to the second world is gained through a portal, which cannot be mapped, tracked, or predicted. This novel relates the stories of three different sets of relatives, whose stories intertwine. First up are Islanders Pip and Kinchen. Pip has the gift of talking to fishes, a gift the Raft King—ruler of Raftworld—is dangerously desperate to use so that he and his people can find the portal and leave the second world. There are also Venus and her twin brother, Swimmer—enslaved people held on a ship headed for Jamaica in 1781. They escape lives of bondage and heartbreaking cruelty via the portal to the second world. Finally, readers meet Thanh and Sang, a brother and sister trying to escape war-torn Vietnam on a small boat, when a violent storm and a brutal pirate attack threaten their survival. Bouwman takes these disparate stories and fits the pieces of her puzzle together in pleasantly surprising ways, down to the very end. Shimizu’s black-and-white illustrations are lovely and vital to picturing the different worlds and moments conjured by the author.
This novel touches on sensitive and tragic moments in history and gives them fantastical remediation for a provocative, immersive read. (afterword, bibliography) (Fantasy. 10-14)