Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Washed Ashore

Washed Ashore

Kerr Thomson
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 2017   ISBN: 978-0545904209

The summer vacation has begun and Fraser feels lucky because he managed to secure a job working on a boat with Dr. Ben McCraig, a scientist who studies whales. Fraser will only be a “general grunt” but he doesn’t mind. He loves going out on the water, he likes whales, and since his island home is not full of entertainment possibilities, the job gives him something to do.

Hayley is furious when her mother uproots her from her life in Texas and brings her to a tiny, remote Scottish island. She wouldn’t have minded so much being separated from her friends and her father if they had gone to London or Paris, but Scotland? She has to share a tiny cottage with her mother and there is no cable, slow Wi-Fi, and intermittent cell phone reception. And to make matters worse there is nothing to do on the island.

One stormy night Fraser sneaks out of the house to go out in the boat with Ben. Fraser has seen many a storm in his life but he has never been out on the water during one. The water is terrifying, the wind is lashing the little boat, and he even wonders if they will make it back to harbor in one piece. As they head back to land, Fraser hears someone calling out for help and he sees what he thinks is an arm waving from the water. He wants to investigate but Ben insists that he is seeing things and keeps going.

High on the cliffs Hayley finds a young boy standing on the cliff edge looking out to sea, seemingly oblivious of the fact that a storm is raging around him. Hayley talks to the boy but he does not answer and she remembers that the people who own their cottage has a son who does not speak. Hayley manages to persuade the boy, Dunny, to head back home.

In the morning Fraser and Ben go to the beach to take a look at a beached whale that was washed ashore in the night. The poor creature is dead and Ben measures it and takes samples. They are then joined by Dunny, who is Fraser’s brother, and Hayley. To say that Fraser and Hayley don’t hit it off is an understatement, and Fraser feels more than a little annoyed with the pretty American girl.

Later that day Fraser goes to check out a local cave and he finds that it is occupied by an African man called Jonah. Perhaps this is the person he saw in the sea the night before? He offers to take Jonah back to town, to get help for him, but Jonah insists that he has to stay in the cave. Fraser offers to bring Jonah some food and clothes and this is what he does later that night, after having dinner with Hayley and her mother. Though Fraser plans on going to the cave alone, Hayley ends up following him and so she meets Jonah. The teens find out that he is from Lesotho and that he an asylum seeker who just accidentally ended up on the island.

The next morning Hayley comes to Fraser’s home and asks him to go with her. She leads him to the beach where they find the body of an African person lying on the sand. He is clearly dead and has a wound in his abdomen. They teens think that the man might be Jonah and next to his body is Ben’s knife. Fraser knows that the knife could be a murder weapon and that Ben could be implicated in Jonah’s death. He knows that they should leave the knife where it is, but instead he takes the knife with him when he and Hayley go to report what they have found.

The next evening Hayley sees Jonah by the harbor. It would seem that Jonah is not the only African to try to make it to the island. The teens wonder if Jonah killed the man they found on the beach, or if Ben did. Then Hayley overhears a conversation and finds out that the man on the beach drowned and did not die of the wound in his belly. So Ben and Jonah are in the clear, but they still don’t know what is going on. How did two men from Lesotho end up in the seas off the island?

This gripping and compelling story explores what it is like to be an asylum seeker who is trafficked and helpless. Jonah’s plight is a very real one and readers will be shocked when they learn about his story and see how powerless he is in the hands of the people who are taking advantage of him. The presence of Dunny in the story gives it another dimension that is almost magical. We see how the boy, who seems so removed and distant, is actually all too aware of what is going on around him. In fact, his awareness is more acute than anyone else’s.