Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Against the Tide

Against the Tide

Theresa Tomlinson
For ages 12 and up
Random House UK, 2005   ISBN: 978-0552552790

For the communities of people who live along the Yorkshire coast in England life is one long struggle. The three stories that make up this volume, "Beneath Burning Mountain," "The Flither Pickers," and "The Herring Girls," perfectly capture the voices and stories of three girls who live along this coast, trying with their families, friends, and neighbours to make a living from the sea and the land.

Anne and her family live on Burning Mountain. Her father works in the alum processing plant and his children often have to help by collecting the sea weed and urine that is needed to make the alum. It is a miserable way to make a living but it is all they have. As if this is not bad enough, the people also live in fear that the men and boys in the community will be taken away by the press gangs. One day Anne and her sister Polly find themselves thrust into the role of being messengers, sent to the nearby fishing village of Sandwick to warn the villagers that the press gang has arrived. It turns out to be a journey which will change their lives forever. When a landslide on Burning Mountain takes away the homes and livelihood of Anne’s family and neighbours, Anne and Polly’s act of courage and kindness is remembered by the people of Sandwick who come to their aid.

In the second story in this collection Liza Welford learns why her mother fears the staith. She sees that events from the past can still cause great pain. She also sees that there are times when everyone has to work together for the good of all. When some of the fishing boats get into trouble during bad weather, Liza and the other girls and women labour as they have never done before to get the life boat launched so that the fishermen, including her father, can be rescued from the waves.

The third story is about Dory Lythe whose life is especially hard. Her father died at sea when she was still small and now her mother works day and night doing laundry so that she can keep her family from having to go to the dreaded workhouse. When Dory’s mother has a stroke Dory realises that she is the only one who can make a living to provide for the little family and the only way she can think of to do this is to go down to Whitby to help with the herring gripping. Cleaning, gutting and packing herring is a filthy, stinking, hard job but it pays well enough. With the help of her friends and family, Dory soon settles into the rhythm of being a herring girl, coming to accept that there is no shame in what she is doing. Working hard for the good of her family has its own special rewards.

These three stories are moving, powerful and enlightening. Often we forget how hard life was for the poorer working people of the past, how much they were at the mercy of the elements, and how little they had to make their lives comfortable. Theresa Tomlinson captures the voices of these three girls, bringing them to life with their special way of speaking, and giving them substance and form with her skilful writing.