Looking for a moving story that spans decades to get lost in? Beyond That, the Sea fits that bill exactly. Read on for my full review!
As German bombs fall over London in 1940, working-class parents Millie and Reginald Thompson make an impossible choice: they decide to send their eleven-year-old daughter, Beatrix, to America. There, she’ll live with another family for the duration of the war, where they hope she’ll stay safe.
Scared and angry, feeling lonely and displaced, Bea arrives in Boston to meet the Gregorys. Mr. and Mrs. G, and their sons William and Gerald, fold Bea seamlessly into their world. She becomes part of this lively family, learning their ways and their stories, adjusting to their affluent lifestyle. Bea grows close to both boys, one older and one younger, and fills in the gap between them. Before long, before she even realizes it, life with the Gregorys feels more natural to her than the quiet, spare life with her own parents back in England.
As Bea comes into herself and relaxes into her new life―summers on the coast in Maine, new friends clamoring to hear about life across the sea―the girl she had been begins to fade away, until, abruptly, she is called home to London when the war ends.
Desperate as she is not to leave this life behind, Bea dutifully retraces her trip across the Atlantic back to her new, old world. As she returns to post-war London, the memory of her American family stays with her, never fully letting her go, and always pulling on her heart as she tries to move on and pursue love and a life of her own.
As we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, Beyond That, the Sea emerges as a beautifully written, absorbing novel, full of grace and heartache, forgiveness and understanding, loss and love.
I chose to listen to Beyond That, the Sea on audiobook (through my favorite place to find audiobooks, Scribd), and I’m glad I did. It was just a great story to sink into that way! The narrator was great, her voice fit the mood of book really well.
The story was really a unique view of war. Bea is only 11 when she’s sent to live in America while bombs fall on her home city of London, which is such a formative time in childhood. World War I lasted over 4 years, so she really ends up spending so much time there, it becomes what feels like home more than London does. She falls in with the family, loves having siblings, and gets used to the culture there.
On the other hand, her mom (understandably) has a really hard time, and ends up having many feelings of jealousy toward Bea’s stand-in mom over in the US. We hear from her periodically throughout the book as she navigates being without Bea, and just life in a war zone.
While Bea finds herself fitting in and even really enjoying her life in the U.S., her whole stay is tinged by not knowing just when she’ll be going back. She knows her stay there is only temporary, and it was really difficult to just live her life as a pre-teen and young teen with that not knowing hanging over her.
The tone of this book actually reminded me a bit of Atonement, especially in the later parts when Bea was older. The book follows a large portion of her life, starting from when she leaves for the U.S. and following her throughout coming back and attempting to fit back in with a family she’s been apart from for so long.
The whole story included love, loss, grief, the passage of time, how people change after adolescence, familial relationships, and more, all with the backdrop of the sea and its moods. Overall I thought it was just a lovely book. There are some pretty big jumps in time that I wished were filled in just a little bit more, but I found the relationships to be believable and the characters to be likable and easy to feel empathy for.
I recommend Beyond That, the Sea for anyone who enjoys coming-of-age family stories, found family, and feeling torn between two worlds where you belong. 4 stars.