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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

'Sea' by Heidi R. Kling

From the BLURB:

Still haunted by nightmares of her mother's death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her father's relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post traumatic stress disorder-something Sienna knows a lot about. Since her mother's plane went missing over the Indian Ocean three years before, Sienna doesn't do anything if it involves the ocean or planes, so this trip is a big step forward.

But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage, and just so happens to be HOT. When Deni hears a rumor that his father may be alive, Sienna doesn't think twice about running away with him to the epicenter of the disaster. Unfortunately, what they find there could break both their hearts.

Sienna ‘Sea’ Jones lost her mother years ago. That’s not a figurative ‘lost’ either – Sea’s mother was a relief worker stationed in Indonesia, and a small plane she was travelling on went missing somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Nobody has seen her since. She is presumed dead.

Three years on and Sea isn’t coping. Her friendship with surfing buddy, Spider, has never recovered because of her connections between death and a fateful kiss. She has night terrors about her mother’s plane going down. And she avoids the ocean . . . never surfing or swimming since her mother’s disappearance.

Sea’s father hasn’t been coping well either. He has gone back to his psychiatry work and relies on his mother, Oma, to help raise Sea. But her father, also a relief worker, misses feeling useful in his occupation. Listening to bored housewives doesn’t quite match up to helping third-world PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) sufferers.

So, when an opportunity arises for Dr Jones and his ‘Team Hope’ crew to travel to tsunami-ravaged Indonesia, and help an orphanage full of tsunami-survivor orphans, he jumps at the chance.

And he wants Sienna to come along with him. . .

The pesantren (orphanage) is located in a remote Indonesian village, far from the fishing towns where many of the children lost their relatives. It is overcrowded and the children rely on donations for food and clothing. When the torrential rains pour down, the rooms flood. But the children are resilient and open to the various art therapies that Dr Jones and his team implement.

But there is one orphan at the pesantren who captures Sienna’s eye. . . a drummer boy called Deni. He walks with a limp and calls Sienna ‘yellow hair’. The moment their eyes meet, Sienna feels drawn to this defiant and sad boy, perhaps because she can understand his pain.

‘Sea’ is the new novel from YA author, Heidi R. Kling.

This is a novel about grief – more precisely, the acute sort of grief that comes from always wondering ‘what if?’ Sienna and the various orphan children have a lot in common. Both are suffering the symptoms of PTSD in the wake of disaster; Sienna has night terrors in which she is onboard her mother’s doomed flight, while the orphan children are frightened by the storms which remind them of the wave. But it is with Deni that Sienna shares the most heartbreaking sort of commonality in grief – the belief that there is hope, despite the odds and logic. Sienna knows that her mother is dead; but the plane wreckage was never found and a body was not bought home, so a small kernel of niggling hope lingers. Likewise, Deni holds onto the belief that members of his family survived the tsunami . . . and that he should return home, to the city of the dead, and search for them.

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami rocked the world – never before had we seen Mother Nature’s viciousness on such a scale. Of course, the next year the world would also bear witness to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina . . . and since then there has been the Queensland floods and Christchurch earthquake, and just this month Turkey has experienced an earthquake that has claimed over 600 lives. But it seems like Mother Nature’s wrath began in the Indian Ocean, where an undersea earthquake set the pace for coming months and years of similar disasters . . .

Kling is certainly setting her novel in a fascinating and devastating aftermath, and her examination of the children survivors of that disaster is equally interesting. It was hard to read the relief workers interactions with the pesantren children – certain scenes and paragraphs will lodge in your throat and hurt your heart. But it was truly intriguing, to read the art therapy sessions and the pure resilience of these children.

Only one aspect of the novel didn’t really work for me – and that was Sienna’s relationship with her father. They’re on rocky territory lately, as Sienna has been observing growing affections between her father and his Team Hope colleague, Vera. But Kling seems to think that Sienna and her father’s conflict lies in the past – with unfinished business concerning her mother’s death. I agree that this was a roadblock for them, but I also wish that both Sienna and her father had acknowledged that they had issues in the present. I didn’t feel like they had enough closure by the end of the book. But this was only a small concern for me, and I might be on my own.

But the big focus of ‘Sea’ is Sienna’s romance with Deni. Their meeting changes both their lives, because it seems they have come to each other right when they needed saving and a helping hand. Sienna’s night terrors are reaching breaking point, and Deni is like a caged animal – desperate to return to his devastated village.

I wanted to tell him that you can meet someone and they can change your life forever, even if you have only known him for a short while, that when you leave, you're a different person than before you met him... and I understand that because of meeting Deni.

Kling takes a chance and writes a poignant and refreshing novel about one of history’s worst natural disasters. It’s a novel about grief and hopelessness, but also about learning to accept loss and trust in those around you with your grief and delicate heart.


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