Across So Many Seas

Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. Feb. 2024. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593323403.
Gr 3-7–Beginning with the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and spanning over 500 years, this powerful historical novel by Behar relates the journeys and discoveries of four young girls from different generations of the same family. The stories of Benevida, Reina, Allegra, and Paloma are linked through the Spanish songs that they learn and pass along through an oud, a musical instrument that becomes a precious family heirloom and symbol of hope. Another recurrent connecting theme is travel—each protagonist embarks on a journey, whether fleeing persecution, searching for liberty, or discovering her past and her future. The plot takes readers from Spain to Naples and Turkey to Cuba, Miami, and back to Spain. The simple, resonant, and lyrical narrative transmits the hope and trust that have sustained Sephardic Jewish communities through the generations. Even the names of the title characters speak a blessing. Benevida means welcome; Reina means queen; Allegra means happiness; and Paloma means peace. An author’s note explains Behar’s connection to this important history. This moving historic tale treats every word used as if it is a fleeting and impossibly beautiful note in a song that can never be forgotten, as it illuminates a people and a past that deserves to be forever remembered.
VERDICT This will appeal to fans of Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, and is highly recommended for all collections.

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