Book: Beautiful Blue World
Author: Suzanne LaFleur
Age Range: 8-12
Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur is a lovely middle grade novel about the power of love and the abilities of children in the face of war. Sofarende is a country in an alternate world that is at war with its two recently united southern neighbors. People are hungry and scared and many of the men have gone off to fight. Bombs are falling on the city in which 12-year-old Mathilde lives with her parents and two younger sisters. Mathilde's greatest solace in the face of uncertainty is her life-long friendship with another girl, Megs. As things look more and more bleak for Sofarende, the government issues a call for children age 12 to 14. A test will be given, and those selected will be sent away to do unspecified work for the war effort, their families well-compensated. This test changes everything for Mathilde and Megs.
Technically, Beautiful Blue World is a fantasy, since the set of countries and war in the story are made up. However, there are no magical elements. Sofarende feels a lot like a small European town, circa World War I. There are trains and factories, but I didn't notice cars. Certainly there are no cell phones or other aspects of modern technology. Focusing on an alternate world, rather than on, say, World War I Europe, allows the author to maintain suspense about the outcome of the war, and even the causes and motivations of the invading armies.
Mathilde is an interesting character. Although this is a first person narrative, the reader will come to understand Mathilde's unique strengths, even as she considers herself ordinary. LaFleur's writing is spare but moving. I didn't flag very many passages as I was reading, because I was so caught up on wondering what was going to happen next. Caught up not by a fast-moving plot but by characters that I quickly came to care about. Here are the two passages that I did flag. The first is Mathilde's thoughts as she is about to separate from Megs:
"I tried not to use words. I tried not to picture.
Hundreds of walks to school, and almost as many back home. Hundreds of summer days. Splashing in the stream. Snowball fights and forts. Braids that had started chin-length and had grown past shoulders. Shared lunches. Snacks. Stories. Smiles. Secrets. Whispers. Walks. Today.
Eyes still closed, I found the girl sitting across from me. Felt her out." (page 72, ARC)
The second is Mathilde's thoughts as she is being separated from her mother:
"Then Mother's thinner arms clung to me. She moved a hand from my back to my head, pressing me against her chest. I could hear her heart beating; I closed my eyes, remembering it deep within me as the first sound I'd ever heard." (Page 78)
This second scene brought a few tears to my eyes, as did other scenes throughout this book. Although there is quite a bit of tension, as well as sadness, Beautiful Blue World also has small moments of humor. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I certainly hope that a sequel will be forthcoming soon. I wasn't expecting a cliffhanger ending, and I did find the conclusion of the book to feel a bit rushed. But I remained captivated throughout. While I do think that this a book that adult gatekeepers (librarians, etc.) are going to love, I think that Beautiful Blue World has enough suspense to appeal very much to middle grade readers, too. Highly recommended, and a book that I would not be surprised to hear about come award season.
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher
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