________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


Red Sea.

Diane Tullson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
168 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55143-331-1.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13–17.

Review by Jocelyn A. Dimm.

*** /4

Reviewed from advance reading copy.


I know why moviemakers sometimes film action sequences in slow motion. It's because that's the way we see them in real life. It's like a strobe light catches the horror in flashes so that the images can burn into our brains. So that we can't hope to ever forget it.

The second boat is so much closer now that I can see the gunman. He too is wearing a ski mask, as are the other men in his boat. He's standing at the bow of his boat, a large rifle aimed our way. His whole body shakes with the force of the weapon. Tiny bursts of fire erupt from the barrel followed by the blat-blat-blat sound of automatic gunfire.

A spray rips across the mainsail. A cockpit cushion explodes in shards of foam. Then the Thermos of tea disintegrates Maybe I imagine it, but I think I see droplets of tea hang in the air. The noise is enormous but even so, I can hear Duncan, beside me, screaming at my mother. I think he's telling her to drop. He's scrambling out into the cockpit, running toward my mother. But nothing is as fast as his bullets. Not his words. Not me thinking, oh good, they're going to miss her.


Fourteen-year-old Libby embarks on a year long sailing voyage with her mother and stepfather, Duncan, but it is a trip she would rather not be on. She has left at home her boyfriend, her best friend, and her father, none of whom she wants to be apart from for an entire year. Tullson weaves moments of insight into Libby's back at home lifestyle throughout the present timeline of being at sea. The reader gets the impression that Libby's antics when she is home are a bit on the wild side and that the trip was more her parent's idea than hers. Oral sex and alcohol abuse are issues that reveal Libby as an unhappy and confused teenager. It seems Libby was taken on the sailing trip as a way to pull her away from home for a while. An angry Libby accuses stepfather Duncan of sexually abusing her and elects to do so during a dinner party on the sailboat, the accusation creating a most awkward moment among the guests. In some ways, this moment is almost too much, threatening to pull readers out of the text, leaving them wondering, “If Libby is this angry, how did they ever get her to go on the voyage?”

     Not to dissuade the reader though, Tullson offers many reasons to stay with this story. Shifting dramatically into a gut-wrenching, very authentic tale of survival, Libby, her mother, and Duncan are attacked by modern day pirates. Duncan is killed, and Libby's mother is seriously wounded. In the face of dire circumstances, Libby must transform her anger into willpower and her tricks into ingenuity, the kind that will keep her mother and herself alive.

     Tullson's knowledge of sailing keeps the story grounded and genuine, along with her in your face descriptions, true to the mind of a 14-year-old girl. As Libby works to bring her mother to a port for much needed medical attention, she has vast amounts of time to think over the cruel things of which she falsely accused her stepfather and the less-than-perfect relationship she has with her boyfriend at home. In her solitary space on the sea, she recognizes how much her stepfather taught her and cared about her, and how her anger over her parents’ splitting up had kept her from acknowledging that reality.

     Even though moments of the novel are, perhaps, a bit exaggerated, it's good to remember this is coming from a teenage girl's perspective and, in that respect, suits Libby's character. Tullson deals with some very serious issues in an intense context. It is quite believable that this angry 14-year-old girl could harness her feelings and insights in such a way that proves her capable of piloting a damaged vessel well enough to sail her mother to safety.


Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and doctoral student at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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