Laura Spence-Ash's debut novel, Beyond That, the Sea, weaves a tapestry of intimate relationships that span the Atlantic in the decades after World War II. At the novel's center is Beatrix Thompson, whose parents, Millie and Reg, make the heart-wrenching decision to send her, at age 11, across the ocean to escape the Blitz in London. Bea lands with a well-off family, the Gregorys, who live near Boston and spend summers on a private island in Maine. She becomes close to the two boys, William and Gerald, and her bond with them and their parents--deep and complicated--will endure.
Spence-Ash gives voice to multiple main characters, writing in brief chapters told from their perspectives: Bea, Millie and Reg each have their say, as do the Gregory parents, Ethan and Nancy, and their two sons. The novel spans multiple decades and continents, but also captures small, intimate details: the muffins Nancy makes for breakfast, the wildflowers in the cemetery near the Gregorys' home, the orange rowboat always moored at the dock near their house in Maine. Spence-Ash traces Bea's maturation from a shy, scared girl into a more confident young woman, who eventually builds her own life and career in London, but never forgets her family across the pond. Meanwhile, Bea's mother, Millie, grapples with her complex feelings about the Gregorys and the important years she missed, as she struggles to build a relationship with her adult daughter.
Quietly stunning, with finely drawn characters and vivid descriptions, Beyond That, the Sea is a gorgeous, elegiac, novel about loss, family and the complexity of love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams