Walk Across the Sea by Susan Fletcher, Susan Fletcher, Nenad Jakesevic |, NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
Walk Across the Sea

Walk Across the Sea

4.6 3
by Susan Fletcher

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The first time Eliza sees Wah Chung, he is squatting beside some rocks on the pathway to her island. Eliza's island is the one on which the lighthouse -- operated and maintained by her father -- stands, sending its beacon of safety to ships at sea. The pathway to the island is a treacherous one, engulfed by water when the tide is high, passable only when the tide is


The first time Eliza sees Wah Chung, he is squatting beside some rocks on the pathway to her island. Eliza's island is the one on which the lighthouse -- operated and maintained by her father -- stands, sending its beacon of safety to ships at sea. The pathway to the island is a treacherous one, engulfed by water when the tide is high, passable only when the tide is low and reveals the secret life of the sea on the rocks and in the pools that remain.

Although Eliza is careful to avoid Wah Chung as he paints among the rocks (after all, he is a Chinaman), when a "sneaker wave" approaches the passage, it is Wah Chung who warns her and then rescues Eliza's goat, Parthenia, before both are swept away.

It is a simple act of kindness, but one that causes Eliza to doubt many things. Are the Celestials, as the Chinese immigrants are called, such a threat to their small town? Are they really heathens, as her father claims? And what should she do when the townspeople conspire to expel these people forcibly? How will Eliza act, in the face of her father's strong beliefs and his duties as the lighthouse keeper, when Wah Chung comes to her for help in return?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Truth is a powerful thing. Sometimes it purely cries out to be told," muses 15-year-old Eliza Jane McCully, the narrator of Fletcher's (Shadow Spinner) eye-opening tale set in the late 1880s, when Chinese immigrant workers were expelled from Crescent City, Calif. The heroine lives with her parents in a lighthouse, where she appreciates the natural world around her and embraces the responsibilities she shares in caring for the beacon. When a boy named Wah Chung saves Eliza Jane from a wave, she's forced to examine the prejudice that her father and others voice toward the Chinese ("They're heathens, Eliza Jane. They contaminate us all just by being near," says her father) and decide the truth for herself. Her discussions with Dr. Wilton (her mother's doctor) on religious matters are especially illuminating. However, the Chinese characters remain two-dimensional; readers will likely come away with no greater appreciation of the depth of the Chinese culture or their struggle to assimilate. But other challenges arise that may well strike a resonant chord with readers, including Mrs. McCully's miscarriage, Eliza Jane's run-in with school bullies and growing estrangement from her father. In a bittersweet ending, the heroine finds her voice and the power that resides in telling the truth, but her bravery is not without consequences (her family is evicted for harboring Wah Chung during a storm). This spirited heroine's wryly humorous voice emerges as the novel's greatest strength. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
"To come to our home in the lighthouse, we had to walk across the bottom of the sea," is the first inviting sentence in this noteworthy novel. Practically everyone in Crescent City believes that Chinese people are heathens, but the friendly act of a boy named Wah Chung causes Eliza to have doubts. Can she go against her father's convictions, especially when he may lose their island home and her mother is recovering from a miscarriage? From page one, Eliza is an immensely engaging character whose charm continues to grow. Good voice and an ear for colorful archaisms bring even minor characters to life. Miss Arglemile is "tougher than last week's biscuits," and Parthenia is one highly "contrarious" goat. Humor mingles with beauty, danger and distrust as Eliza discovers that doing right can bring real sorrow. Based on the actual expulsion of Chinese immigrants from California in 1886, this convincing novel never allows its extensive research to intrude. Similarly, thorny Biblical concepts are examined without invasive moralizing. Fletcher has taken a weighty subject and turned it into a winning tale with a protagonist so appealing that readers will hate to close the book on her. 2001, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.00. Ages 10 to 13. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
Set in northern California in 1886, this tale is of a spiritual coming-of-age for Eliza, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. It is also a surprisingly mesmerizing tale of a ghost in the American national closet. After a brief introduction, the book introduces young Eliza, who follows without question the biblical command to honor her father and mother. She loves her parents, their home, and even her irascible goat, Parthenia. The problems in town with the Chinese, or Celestials, are disconcerting, but Eliza follows her father's decree that the strangers are heathens and therefore an evil that she should avoid. A chance meeting with Wah Chung, a boy her own age, finds Eliza questioning her father. Her mother's frightening miscarriage leads Eliza to doubt her god's existence. Eventually, she will investigate the Bible on her own, finding passages that emphasize love, as opposed to her father's stricter isolationist interpretations. She will determine her own path of faith and action. This book would be particularly interesting to use as a historical contrast for social studies classes covering last fall's events and their religious motivations. It also provides a broader view of the era for those who enjoy the first-person tales of Chinese immigrants in California similar to those of Lawrence Yep. A detailed afterword by the author separates fact from fiction and points to further areas of study for interested readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Atheneum/S & S, 214p,
— Beth Karpas
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2001: On the Pacific coast, a lighthouse stands on an isthmus, with a family living there and tending the light. It is a time in the 19th century when Chinese immigrants on the West Coast are treated poorly and have few rights. This is the setting for Fletcher's novel about Eliza Jane, who helps her father in the lighthouse. One night, when he had left her in charge, Eliza's mother goes into premature labor, and the baby dies. Another crisis confronts the family during a wild storm. There is a rule that no other person can stay on the little island with the lighthouse; but during the storm a young Chinese boy takes shelter there, knowing he will be persecuted by the townspeople if he comes out of hiding. Eliza gets food to him, with her mother's help, and during the storm, with seawater flooding their home, she has to reveal the boy's presence to her father. The confrontation forces the family to make a choice, with their job at the lighthouse at stake—yet it is a moral choice that has even larger repercussions. It is always a difficult job to present a story of prejudice from the majority point of view: here we have to travel along Eliza's own journey from ignorance and prejudice to enlightenment—not a good position from the minority's point of view. In that sense, the story would be more acceptable to Chinese Americans if it had been from the Chinese boy's point of view. Fletcher has done a lot of research about anti-Chinese prejudices at that place in that time, so the facts are accurate; and Eliza and a few other whites are appalled at the injustice shown the Chinese neighbors, so they represent the "right" moral stance.Since the main reason whites shunned the Chinese was because they considered them "heathens," the Bible is quoted copiously in this novel for both that point of view and the one Eliza adopts, based on Jesus' statements about showing compassion for those in need. Eliza's faith in a loving God has already been shaken mightily by the death of her baby sister, and that strengthens her need to understand the moral implications of Christian faith. Fletcher describes Eliza's dilemma well, and she also writes about the exotic lighthouse setting in vivid language, helping her readers feel as though they are there on the little island with Eliza. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, Aladdin, 214p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Eliza Jane McCully's father maintains a lighthouse perched on a picturesque island along the coast of northern California in 1886. Twice a day, the tide withdraws, leaving a rocky isthmus between the island and the mainland. The 13-year-old loves to observe the delicate creatures collected in the tide pools, for just a few hours before the sea covers them again. She is always aware of her father's admonition about unpredictable "sneaker waves," and is nearly claimed by one as she and her balking goat attempt to return home one day. They are rescued by a Chinese boy with whom Eliza feels an immediate spiritual connection, prompting her to question her father's beliefs that the immigrants are godless heathens and opportunists who take jobs away from the townspeople. She becomes an outspoken advocate for the Chinese a month later when she wanders into a shantytown and witnesses an old man (who turns out to be her rescuer's grandfather) being threatened and bullied. In ensuing days, anti-Chinese sentiment escalates, with vigilantes forcing the immigrants from their homes at gunpoint. Eliza harbors Wah Chung until her secret is exposed, and then pleads that he not be handed over to authorities who are likely to expel or harm him. Eliza challenges her father and her community to live up to their Christian values by protecting the boy. This is a gripping and complex story, and Fletcher's lyrical depiction of 19th-century life, her exceptionally well-drawn protagonist, and her deft analysis of racial discrimination make the book even more powerful.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Racism and her mother's miscarriage bring an end to a happy chapter in the life of a California lighthouse-keeper's daughter in this emotionally tumultuous novel, set in the 1880s. Until a group of townsfolk band together to drive the "celestials," the small Chinese immigrant community, out of Crescent City, the only cloud in Eliza Jane's sky is her goat Parthenia's genius at escaping to munch on other people's flowers. Despite her father's orders to stay away from the "heathen," however, she finds herself drawn to a talented young artist, and inadvertently becomes an angry, horrified witness to incidents of harassment that culminate in a nighttime mass kidnapping of Chinese women and children. Meanwhile, she is also wrestling with her religious faith after her mother loses a baby, and coming to discover that her father isn't quite the pillar of strength she had always believed him to be. Drawing the forced removal from historical accounts, Fletcher enriches her tale's setting with carefully researched detail about lighthouses and the families that kept them, and ultimately brings to her troubled protagonist both an epiphany that restores her respect for God and her father, and a new baby brother. An intense, meaty historical novel from the author of Shadow Spinner (1998). (Fiction. 10-12)

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Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The China Boy

March 1886

Crescent City, California

The beginning of the end of our life in the lighthouse was the day the goat got loose.

Well. There were many such days. Papa had bought her -- Parthenia -- to crop the poison oak and blackberry bushes that threatened to overtake our island. The milk was extra blessing.

Parthenia did her job too well. When she had taken her fill of brambles, she commenced upon Mama's vegetables and roses. Mama gave roses the go-by in time, but Papa built fence after fence for the garden before he finally set up one that goat looked upon as a discouragement.

After that, she raided other folks' gardens. She would escape the island at ebb tide, and after-ward we would hear reports -- Mrs. Somersby at church fuming about her hollyhocks, Horace Ahrens at school giving account of his mother's lost cabbages, Dr. Wilton from the hospital lamenting his late nasturtiums. Dr. Wilton was goodhearted about it though. He said Parthenia went tripping through the tiny clapboard hospital, entertaining the patients. The whole place felt jollier when she was there.

But Papa said it was not right to let Parthenia run loose. Besides, he said, the heathen Chinamen in the shanties at the edge of town were known to eat all manner of meat -- rat meat, crow meat, cat meat, dog meat. They'd likely look upon Parthenia as a tasty supper indeed. Still, that cantankerous goat would escape. She could gnaw through any rope. She could jump atop her shed and vault across the fence. She could lean against the slats and knock them flat. If she purely wanted out, we couldn't hold her -- just slow her down. It was my job to find her and fetch her home before the tide came in.

This day I'm telling of was a Saturday early in March -- two years ago, when I was thirteen. Parthenia had tucked into Mrs. Overmeyer's primroses, and that lady was none too pleased. "Eliza Jane McCully," she said when I came upon the scene, "you get that goat out of my garden, do you hear me? Shoo! Goat, shoo! Oh, my primroses! My poor, poor primroses!"

It took some doing to cultivate primroses so near the Pacific Ocean, with the constant salty wind and the sandy soil. Primroses -- and other flowers -- were a luxury and purely cherished by folks who grew them. I tied a rope around Parthenia's neck, and we played tug-o'-war for a spell, until she clapped eyes on the violets by the hospital and made a beeline in that direction. I managed to steer her away, toward the bluff above the isthmus. "Folks get contentious, with you laying into their flowers," I told her. "Haven't you noticed? Haven't you wondered why all the conniptions when you're about?"

Parthenia bleated mournfully, looked back at me with great, round, sorrowful eyes. She was misunderstood, she seemed to say. She was only hungry.

I first caught sight of Wah Chung when we reached the edge of the bluff. I didn't know yet he was called Wah Chung. I didn't know a blessed thing about him -- save that he was squatting beside some rocks on the path to our island, his long pigtail hanging down his back beneath a wide, flat straw hat. A Chinaman. Seemed like he was writing something. Or drawing, maybe.

I stood there a tick, not knowing what to do. I was forbidden to mill about the China shanties, as some children did, buying litchi nuts and ginger candies. "Heathen things," Papa called them. So I stayed away. I was forbidden even to speak to a Chinaman. "If you see one coming toward you," Papa said, "step away and don't look at him. If you meet their eyes, they might try to converse with you. Best have nothing to do with them."

But the tide was on the uprise that afternoon. It had already swallowed up most of the isthmus, and the thin, foamy edges of waves washed across the narrow way that remained. I couldn't get home without passing quite near to this Chinaman. And I dared not wait for him to leave.

If it hadn't been for Parthenia, I might have turned back. The Wiltons let me stay with them whenever it was needful -- when I became stranded on the mainland unexpectedly, or when, because of the tides, I had to leave for school early or turn homeward late. Mrs. Wilton had devised a signal to show that I was safely settled at their house: a yellow banner hung above their front porch and visible from the island. But the invitation did not include Parthenia. And besides, I didn't hanker for more doings with gardeners on a rampage.

I hurried along the steep path down the bluff. The brisk, sea-smelling wind whipped at my skirts and coat. It was a clear day, rare this time of year. High, thin clouds raced shoreward across a forever sky; gulls wheeled and cried overhead. Parthenia, at once seeming eager to be home, minced along before me, her udder bulging, flapping side to side. As we picked our way through the heaps of driftwood I saw the Chinaman glance toward us and away. He rose partway to his feet, seemed to think better of it, then squatted back on his heels and stared hard into the tide pool. It came to mind that he might wish to be shut of me as fervently as I wished to avoid him. But I had cut off his avenue of retreat.

Drawing near, I saw that he was holding a paintbrush and a sheet of paper tacked to a board. An ink jar sat on a rock beside him. A wave lapped over his bare feet and wet the legs of his baggy denim trousers, but he did not try to escape it by moving into our path. He sat like a stone. When we had nearly come abreast, Parthenia gave a quick, hard lurch in the Chinaman's direction

and tried to bite his hat. I yanked her away and stepped sideways into a tide pool, flooding my boots with cold water, soaking my skirt and petticoat to my knees. A jet of anger spurted up inside me. This was our path to our island. What business had he here?

He did not look up. I cinched Parthenia's rope, clambered out of the pool and, shoes sloshing in my boots, marched for home.

But now Parthenia dawdled. She kept craning back to ogle the Chinaman, no doubt lusting after his hat. I slapped her flanks to urge her along -- a mistake, I discovered. She balked -- head down, ears back, legs splayed. "Come along, Parthenia," I said between clenched teeth. For pure cussedness that goat could not be beat. She backed toward the mainland, glaring at me. I jerked her rope sharp -- another mistake. She wheeled round and bolted toward the Chinaman so quick, she took me off guard. Her rope slipped, burning, through my hand. I snatched at it, missed, and stumbled forward, hoping to catch hold of goat or rope before she reached the Chinaman.

He had turned to stare. His eyes looked wild. He leaped to his feet, flailed his arms, shouted something I couldn't understand. My heart stopped. Was he threatening me? Trying to scare me away from Parthenia so he could steal her? But something about the way he moved made me look over my shoulder, and then I saw it -- a wave, a great, tall breaker, looming behind me. I ran, tripped, fell -- my skirts were heavy, clinging. I got up and scrambled across a heap of rocks to a sturdy-looking boulder, then clung to the landward side as Papa had taught me -- crouching, nestling into the curves of it, digging my fingers into its crannies. And the wave came roar-ing down upon me. Green water -- not just white water and foam. It poured over my head, engulfed me to my waist, knocked me about, tried to jerk my feet from under me and pry me away. I pressed against the boulder until barnacles cut into my skin. The current dragged at me, so strong. My fingers slipped; I was peeling away...

Then it was past. I dashed the stinging salt spray from my eyes and scanned the sea. Though water still sucked at my skirts below my knees, I saw nothing alarming on the horizon.

A sneaker wave. I had been caught by them before, though never so direly as this, and Papa warned me constantly against them. Never turn your back on the sea, he always said -- though of course we must, at times. But it was folly to do so for long.

And now I heard a piteous bleat. Parthenia! I turned to see her flailing in the arms of the Chinaman. I had a mind to shout at him, to tell him to put her down, but then I saw that he was wading toward me. "You...goat," he said. He set her down in the ebbing water and held out the end of the rope to me. He was drenched, head to foot. Hat gone, long blue jacket torn, a fresh gash across one cheek. He stood just my height, I saw. He seemed...my age, or very near.

A China boy.

Parthenia bleated again, long and deep and sad. She was a sorry sight, all stomach, bones, and udder, with her hair plastered to her body, and her slotted amber eyes reproaching me. All at once I felt ashamed. I had not given her a thought, had just run to save my own skin. And yet this China boy...Had he rescued Parthenia from the wave? Or just plucked her up after it had passed?

He held out the rope again. "You...goat," he said.

I glanced over my shoulder at the sea -- all was well -- then hastened toward the China boy. I kept my eyes averted. But at the last moment, when I was about to mumble my thanks, my eyes snagged on his -- strange, lidless-seeming, almond-shaped. Something moved inside me, like a sudden shift in the wind.

The China boy ducked his head. I snatched the rope from his hand.

"Come along, Parthenia," I said sternly. "Come along!"

Copyright © 2001 by Susan Fletcher

Meet the Author

Susan Fletcher is the acclaimed author of the Dragon Chronicles, composed of Dragon’s Milk, Flight of the Dragon Kyn, Sign of the Dove, and Ancient, Strange, and Lovely as well as the award-winning Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and Falcon in the Glass. Ms. Fletcher lives in Wilsonville, Oregon. Visit her at SusanFletcher.com.

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Walk Across the Sea 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book Walk Across The Sea because it had aspects that i loved being in 1886 it was a great historical fiction book. One thing I didn't like was that the book ended so fast like the author was in a hurry and just wrote a short proloug to explain the book in whole. In the end it was a great book that most would enjoy very much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ever since she was three years old, Eliza Jane McCully has lived in the lighthouse at Crescent City, California, where her father is the keeper. Now thirteen, Eliza has many responsibilities, helping her father to keep the light burning, and eagerly awaiting the birth of her new baby sibling. One day while chasing her stubborn goat across the pathway to the island, she is caught by a wave. A Chinese boy saves her goat and warns her about the wave just in time. Eliza is confused, because her father has taught her that the Chinese are evil heathens. An unexpected tragedy causes Eliza to doubt her own beliefs as well as questioning her father's. When the townspeople run the Chinese out of Crescent City, Eliza watches in horror, unable to do anything. But when the boy who rescued her comes to her for help, Eliza must make the ultimate decision. Is she is brave enough to openly defy her father? I highly reccomend this novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction.