A Crack in the Sea

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
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Unusual mix of history and fantasy makes an engrossing read.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information on the slave trade, the Middle Passage, and the mass murder of 133 African slaves aboard the slave ship Zong to collect insurance. An afterword expands on this. Information about Vietnamese refugees, "boat people," who fled after the Vietnam War. Mention of Amelia Earhart and her flights.

Positive Messages

Encourages readers to imagine a world where people get along. Leaders should not be autocratic, should consult citizens. Refugees can be welcomed. Family members may sometimes be overprotective because they love you, but you can gain your independence. Some people have special gifts, but everyone is important. It's easier to weather storms if you help each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the main characters are caring. All three brother-sister pairs protect and care for each other. Pip breaks free to be independent, and decides to use his skills to help the Raft King. Characters who think they're not good at things turn out to have special magical powers. Mai is brave and helps others. Venus leads the other slaves to safety when they're thrown overboard. All characters are accepting of others.


Violence on slave ship. Rebellious slave lowered into water and attacked by sharks. Captain of slave ship orders live slaves thrown overboard so he can collect insurance. Threat of rape.


No sex, but allusion to sailors on ship having sex with female slaves.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman is a surprising mix of historical fiction and fantasy that braids strands from a slave ship, a Vietnamese refugee boat, and a "second world" that opens up via a portal in the ocean. There's grim violence on the slave ship, including a slave who's attacked by sharks when he's lowered into the ocean as punishment, and the chilling murder of slaves thrown overboard for profit. Though there's no sex, there's the threat of rape -- on the slave boat and later, when pirates plunder the refugee boat. But because the second world is a place where people care for one another and try to get along, the book carries messages of tolerance and peace. This book will captivate readers who like their fantasy spiced with real-life drama.

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Teen, 15 years old Written bynarwhalgirl1219 April 16, 2018
I thought this story was sort of confusing, but also loving and an easy read. It's simple at first, but I got a little lost when they switched characters.... Continue reading

What's the story?

A CRACK IN THE SEA opens with the story of a sister and brother, Kinchen and Pip, who live on an island in the "second world." During a visit of the Raft people, a community that lives on a vast swath of floating rafts, the Raft King kidnaps Pip, who has the ability to talk to sea creatures. The people of Raftworld are descendants of slaves from the slave ship Kong, who were thrown overboard and would have perished. But one of their number, a girl named Venus, got them to clasp hands, and she and her brother led the drowning slaves through a "crack in the sea" to the second world. Centuries later, the Raftworld they live on is overcrowded, and the Raft King needs help. Another group that finds its way to the second world is a group of refugees fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. When all these characters meet up in the second world and their stories intersect, questions swirl. Who will stay? Who will leave? Will they be able to travel back to the world they came from? Is there another solution to Raftworld's overpopulation? And how will the characters with magical powers help the others?

Is it any good?

This absorbing book, an unusual mash-up of historical fiction and fantasy tinged with folklore, succeeds in grounding us in painful periods of history while also transporting us to a magical world. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, A Crack in the Sea might've churned into an indistinct mush, but H. M. Bouwman maintains confident control as she weaves in one thread then another, and takes us on various journeys. The characters are deliberately multiracial -- the Raftworlders are black, the island folk have skin that's lighter brown, and the boat people are Vietnamese. Some are relatably insecure, some have magical powers, and all are plucky. And though the second world is an enviably peaceful place where folks of different races respect and care for one another, it's not without conflict and challenges. And the book has plenty of page-turning suspense from the historical fiction, in which readers can learn about the slave trade and the fall of Saigon.

Striking black-and-white illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are strategically placed and go a long way toward helping readers envision this enchanting sea world and its appealingly multiracial cast of characters. Though one might wish the art were better showcased on a more weighty, less muddy paper stock. Readers from our care-worn world will want to travel to the magical second world, and this book provides the portal.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the parts in A Crack in the Sea that are historical fiction and the parts that are fantasy. How do the strands work together?

  • Why do you think the author envisioned a different outcome for the slaves who were thrown overboard the slave ship Zong? Do you feel she accomplished what she wanted to, as explained in the Afterword she wrote?

  • The characters are descendants of Africans, Europeans, and Asians. Why do you think the author included different cultures and races? How do they get along in the real world? In the second world?

Book details

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