Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea

illus. by Lynne Rae Perkins. 240p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062499660.
Midway through this episodic tale of a family beach vacation, main character Alix and her mother visit a craft store. They are both charmed by the model train scenery, the tiny cows and trees. This scene, involving looking with great concentration and joy at something small, is emblematic of the story as a whole. In every episode-a night swim, a June-bug attack, a beach-glass-collecting expedition, a visit to a raptor sanctuary-Perkins zooms in. Not only do we taste the salty crunch of deep-fried periwinkles and hear the specific sound of a flat tire but we get to know the characters in an intimate way. "'Look,' said Mom pointing. 'There's your dad. You know how I know it's him?...Because of how he walks...It's a little bit bouncy. As if any minute, he's gong to run up the court and shoot a basket.'" Older sister Jools feels "crabby" and wallows in her issues, including "recent complaints and long-ago grievances and annoying things that might happen in the future." Slightly odd words feel exactly right. The swelling sea "rumples"; the campfire flames "wobble"; caught in a crowd, the family "shuffled in their huddle through the hubbub." Black-and-white illustrations-beautifully composed, slightly mysterious, gently funny-add to the intensity and authenticity. sarah ellis

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