What is family?

How ironic to be reading a story about a child from a leper colony during the COVID lockdown.

What impressed me most about Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk was its timelessness. It could have been set pretty much any time in the last hundred years.

The story’s protagonist is a plucky young foundling called Crow after the feather shaped birth mark on her cheek. She is raised on the wild island of Cuttyhunk near Massachusetts by Osh, the man who found her as an infant washed up in a tiny boat with an antique ring and a note.

The other islanders are memorable characters. Miss Maggie leads the life of a duchess gone wild. Osh fishes and paints and is very quiet about his past.

This is a story about outcasts banding together to solve a mystery. Of identity and self-discovery. And of practical fears over contagion held by otherwise kindly folk.

Crow seeks her roots in the abandoned leper colony on a neighbouring island. As her investigations bring tantalising clues she risks drifting away from her adoptive family who know that you don’t always find the answers you go looking for.

This book has a very lyrical quality and its landscape and seascape depictions are crisp and as well drawn as one of Osh’s own paintings.

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