Seaside Stroll by Charles Trevino, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899321)
Told with only words that begin with “s” this picture book is superbly surprising. A little girl and her mother bundle up for a winter visit to the seaside. The little girl brings along her doll, and they explore the snowy sand together. She finds a stick, swings it at the seagulls. There are shells, stones, seaweed and more to discover on the sand. She is surprised when a surge of water takes her doll away and into a tidepool. The doll is soaked and after the doll is saved, the little girl is sopping wet too. Cold and shivering, they leave the beach and head home for a hot shower and a cozy story before bed.
Trevino creates an entire story here, not just a series of words that begin with the same letter. Based on poetry designed in American Sign Language, his book is thoughtful and fascinating. Using clever and smart punctuation, he creates a world of snow and sand for readers to explore alongside his young character. Amazingly, the book reads aloud brilliantly and aloud shows the dynamic nature of language and letters.
The artwork tells much of the story, since the text is so focused and brief. The joy of exploring the cold seaside, the pleasure of discovery and the return home to cozy warmth, all are depicted with bright colors, sunshine and then warm firelight.
Em’s older sister was raped by another student at her college following a frat party. After reliving the trauma through the trial of her rapist, Em is incandescent with vindication when the jury finds the rapist guilty on all counts. Em has been an advocate for her sister through the process, becoming a social media figure in the #MeToo movement. Then the judge in the case rules that the rapist will serve no prison time. Once again Em’s entire family is thrown into chaos. Her sister must figure out how to continue going to school and where she can safely live. Her parents are fractured in their responses, smothering and avoiding. Em too must find a new way forward without the trial as her focus. Meanwhile, a clip of her after the trial saying she wants to learn “how to use a sword” has gone viral. As Em makes new friends over the summer, she learns to wield that sword both literally and figuratively as she discovers the life of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman who is a legendary figure who took justice into her own hands and at the point of her own sword.
McCullough’s writing here is just as fine as that of her debut novel Blood Water Paint. She writes such strong young women who deal with rape and derision and yet find a way to fight back in their own personal ways. For Em, her writing is a tool that allows her to cope. She gets caught up in the legend of Marguerite de Bressieux, writing at length, sharing it usually with a new friend who understands her need to stand up and be heard. Em’s writing is included in the book in verse, pairing beautifully with the prose and offering illuminated images alongside some of the poems.
Intelligent and raging, this book deeply looks at the impact of a rape on the survivor and her family. It’s interesting to have Em as the main character, a sister who feels powerless much of the time and must reclaim along with her sister what has been lost to the legal process and its clear biases. It is a look also at the power of art to express fury as well as hope.
Stunning, raw and gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.