And the Ocean Was Our Sky

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
And the Ocean Was Our Sky Book Poster Image
Violent, gripping fantasy turns "Moby Dick" upside down.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Book may encourage readers to read and compare it with Herman Melville's Moby Dick, or encourage them to research the history of whaling.

Positive Messages

Rumors and fear give rise to evil. Our desire to defeat evil sends us to fighting and war, which eventually leads to our destruction. The worst evils are the ones we make ourselves. Asks questions about fate, why things happen, revenge, authority, mercy, and more.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bathsheba is part of an all-female hunting group, including a captain who's powerful, authoritative, knowledgeable, and experienced. Bathsheba herself is a good role model for empathy, wanting to know more about and understand the world, and for questioning why things seem inevitable instead of blindly following along. In her youth she was brave, resourceful, compassionate. Older Bathsheba wants nothing more to do with fighting or hunting, cautions strongly about how easy it would be to go back to those ways, but it would only result in us destroying ourselves.

Violence

Lots of fantasy-action violence described and illustrated in a world where humans hunt whales and whales also hunt humans (with harpoons and everything). Clashes include descriptions of harpooning, mention blood and pain, and describe what each species does to those they've killed. A picture and description of a dead baby whale. The final confrontation is described with some gore. Many illustrations emphasize dark, eerie senses of dread, fear, loss, and show artistically stylized blood. Important characters die. Description of how Bathsheba's mother met a violent death in the past.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a heavily illustrated, short fantasy novel by popular writer Patrick Ness that re-imagines Herman Melville's Moby Dick from a whale's point of view. Lots of action and violence are both described and illustrated. Harpooning, how the kills are processed, hitting, and biting are described mentioning blood and with some descriptions of pain. A dead baby whale is described and illustrated. Positive representations come from a strong female captain and an all-female hunting group. Narrator Bathsheba models empathy, mercy, curiosity, and questioning the status quo. Thought-provoking questions arise about fate, revenge, authority, endless war, mercy, and more. And it has strong messages about letting rumors and fear give rise to evil, which we'll then try to fight and only end up destroying ourselves in the process.

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What's the story?

In AND THE OCEAN WAS OUR SKY, whales hunt humans because humans hunt whales, and humans hunt whales because whales hunt humans. It's always been this way. Until at 16, Bathsheba is apprenticed to a hunting pod under the notorious Captain Alexandra. Alexandra's determined to find and destroy the great white ship that left her with a harpoon stuck in her head and took away her echolocation ability. As they follow Toby Wick's trail of destruction across the waters, Bathsheba becomes plagued with doubts. But she must obey her captain no matter the cost to her own life, or to life as we know it.

Is it any good?

This is a gripping, haunting fantasy from veteran author Patrick Ness accompanied by equally evocative illustrations, both of which provoke thought instead of spoon-feeding answers. And the Ocean Was Our Sky raises issues that teens who are ready to tackle larger questions more deeply will get a lot out of thinking and talking about. And like its inspiration Moby Dick, it also works well as a grand, oceangoing adventure.

It's a bit puzzling in the beginning until the reader can fully understand and accept the (literally) upside-down world that the whales inhabit. But readers who enjoy setting reality aside and going along for the ride will enjoy the adventure. Best for readers ready to think more deeply about power, loyalty, conflict, mercy, and other big issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in And the Ocean Was Our Sky. How much is too much? Does it make a difference if it's fantasy violence? What about descriptions vs. illustrations?

  • Have you read Moby Dick or seen any of the movie versions? How does this book compare? If you haven't, would you like to now? Why, or why not?

  • How much do you know about whales, or about the history of whaling? Go to your local or school library to find books or search online to learn more.

  • What do you think Bathsheba means when she says "... there are devils in the deep, but worst are the ones we make"?

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