I find myself on top of Coconut Hill, in front of the view of the shimmering blue sea – inviting, magical, but dangerous.
[All quotes are from the ARC, subject to change in the final edition.]
4.9/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: Middle-grade contemporary fantasy
Publication: 6 July 2021 (Scholastic)
Pages: 304 (hardcover)
Synopsis: Meet Josephine, the most loveable mischief-maker in Barbados, in a magical, heartfelt adventure inspired by Caribbean mythology.
Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team. She’ll get to play her favorite sport AND make sure her fisherman daddy is too busy attending her matches to date.
But when tryouts go badly, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life… The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, she doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss–she sings in a strange language, eats weird food, and seems to exert mysterious control over everyone she meets.
Josephine knows that Mariss isn’t what she seems…she might not be human! But who’s going to believe her? Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?
Content warnings (highlight to see): animal attack; implied animal death; injury and violence; near-drowning; past loss of a loved one; sexism in sport
What I Thought:
This was such a gripping, bingeable read full of strong, witty narration in an immersive Bajan setting! The culture is vividly depicted, through language (English and Bajan creole), delicious sounding-food (I started looking up cou-cou and flying fish recipes partway into the book!), lifeways and of course, the fascinating folklore. It was also cool to see how Bajan food and geography are similar/different to Guyana where Josephine’s dad was raised.
This was a lot more tense/scary than I expected – though I am also listening to a horror audiobook, which might have something to do with it – and the way that the antagonist transitions from annoying to subtly menacing to flat-out terrifying is very impressive. There are numerous magical and folkloric elements/references that pop up, and I really enjoyed how seamlessly the fantasy starts soaking into the contemporary more and more. This book had a great array of emotions – at some points I laughed out loud, other times pressed my hand to my aching heart and still other times wanted to swear at my Kindle. There are some serious topics (e.g. grief, sexism, attempted murder to name a few) but overall this book was so heartwarming and uplifting.
Softly smiling with hands on cheeks
I loved the characters; they felt so real and distinct, especially Josephine and I really enjoyed watching her arc develop. Both Josephine and her father must come to terms with the devastating loss of her mother, the fear of getting hurt and it was really satisfying to see how their arcs parallel each other sometimes. The side characters all had clear voices and personalities too, with standout figures being Josephine’s best friend Akhai, his mother Miss Mo, their teacher Miss Alleyne (gosh I loved her so much) and the librarian Mrs Edgecombe, whose reading style I can totally relate to! There is casual diversity too: Josephine’s dad has a bad knee, her cricket coach is fat (and not written to diminish his athletic capability) and her best friend Akhai is autistic. Even the antagonist turned out pretty complex too.
“Every coin has two sides! Like all powerful creatures, they are as dangerous as they are generous.”
That said, I did get a little confused as to their motives near the end…I can’t specify for spoilery reasons but I would have loved to get a little more closure on that.
Overall an excellent contemporary fantasy – my first introduction to Caribbean folklore and Bourne’s work, and certainly won’t be my last!
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, Shakirah Bourne and Edelweiss for an ARC for an honest review.
Top 5 Reasons to Read ‘Josephine Against the Sea’:
- Vivid portrayal of Bajan food, language and culture plus fascinating Caribbean folklore
- Compelling and strong narrative voices – not just Josephine’s!
- Characters you root for as they grow
- Gripping, fast-paced plotline with alternately funny, touching, sad and terrifying moments
- If you love cricket don’t miss this!
- (Bonus reason) Have you SEEN how gorgeous this cover is?! It just compels you to read this book!
Book purchase links:
About the Author:
Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian author and filmmaker. Her first feature film, the comedy-drama, PAYDAY, was screened throughout the Caribbean, USA and UK. She has written three films since its debut in 2013: Two Smart (writer/co-director), Next PAYDAY (writer/producer) and A Caribbean Dream (writer/director). A Caribbean Dream is distributed by Verve Pictures and had a cinema release in London in 2017. The film won several awards, including Best Drama at the National Film Awards UK, Best International Feature at the Charlotte Black Film Festival and best UK Feature at the London Independent Film Festival.
Her short stories have been featured in many literary journals (see below). Her self-published collection of short stories, IN TIME OF NEED (2013), won the prestigious Governor General Award for Excellence in Literary Fiction. She was a finalist for the BURT/CODE Award for Caribbean Literature in 2018. The Caribbean edition of her middle grade novel, MY FISHY STEPMOM, was published by Blue Banyan Books (2019) and the North American edition, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in 2021.
She was a Part-time Lecturer at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and is a Part-Time Lecturer in Screenwriting at the Barbados Community College. She currently holds Certificates in Screenwriting from the Barbados Community College and the University of Edinburgh, and an MA (Hons) in Arts and Cultural Management from Queen Margaret University.
Find Shakirah on her…
- Website: https://www.shakirahbourne.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/shakirahwrites
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8104466.Shakirah_Bourne
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shakirahwrites/