Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz
Release Date: January 12th 2016
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
A powerful novel-in-verse about how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village. On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town.
Heartrending yet hopeful, Up from the Sea is a story about loss, survival, and starting anew.
This is one of those novels that instantly transports you. You’re there with Kai as the quake hits and as he runs to get to higher ground to escape the tsunami. As the water keeps rising, you see the waves break apart the bridge he and his classmates had run to. And your heart will break as you realize he has, by some miracle survived, but lost so much as well.
While this books takes place in a coastal city in Japan, I feel like the emotions that Kai go through will resonate with everyone no matter where you live. The basic plot may be about the aftermath of a tsunami, but the heart of the story is truly Kai. It’s about his losses, his gains, growing up, and finding joy among the pain. Yes, he is often selfish and self-absorbed, but, at 17, he really is still a kid/teen. Up until this point, his biggest concerns were about finishing high school or what he fought with his mom about. Now, he has to learn how to get one without almost everyone that he loves. I loved that Lowitz didn’t hold back on the depression/survivor’s guilt as it’s an emotion that so many go through. Part of me does wish there had been just a tad bit more on it, but I understand it wasn’t the main focus as well.
I will admit that I found the dad side plot was a bit distracting. For the most part, it felt unneeded. Yes, it made it so that Kai wasn’t an orphan, but it felt out of place. The only really usefulness was to show that Kai had found where he belonged/didn’t want to leave after all, but there were other ways that could have been done. And maybe this will be the start of a real relationship between he and his father, but the whole thing just felt a tad forced.
The 9/11 connection always felt a bit out of place, but I liked this one more than I didn’t. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy that victims of one disaster helping other survivors heal. It’s one of those feel good, humanity still exists plots that I’m okay with. (This sentiment also applies to the lost soccer ball as well.)
Final Verdict: A powerful verse novel that is great for teens for all ages. It’s gives a look into the aftermath of the 2011 Japan tsunami that may otherwise been unknown.