The Pull of the Ocean

 
Unsettling French fable may confuse and alarm kids.
ALA Best and Notable Books

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teen readers might enjoy this retelling of Tom Thumb and look for other interpretations of fairy tales for older kids. See our recommended list for some ideas.

Positive messages

This is a fascinating retelling of the Tom Thumb story. There is bravery in Yann's rescue of his brothers from their abusive home and the way the brothers look out for one another.

Positive role models

The brothers do look out for and care for each other. Yann is an enigmatic protagonist, and readers won't feel that they know him, or any of the other characters.

Violence

Though this is a fable, there is child abuse, the beating of a bully, discussions of killing a litter of kittens, and children are locked up in a house and almost die.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

Some mild swearing: "bitch," "screwed." A boy makes rude gestures.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that in the fable-like context here, there is some mild swearing and violence, and that kids run away from their awful home for several days, and one of them forever. This is the winner of the Batchelder Award, an honor given by the American Library Association for foreign books, and while some teens might appreciate the writing and open ending, this may seem like an odd book to many American readers.

What's the story?

Yann is the youngest of seven boys, the rest of whom are all twins. While his brothers are big and strong, Yann is as tiny as a toddler, mute as well, and brilliant. Resented by his angry and abusive parents, he communicates nonverbally with his brothers. One night, after overhearing his arguing parents, he tells his brothers that they are all in danger and must run away. Heading out into a storm in the middle of the night, Yann leads them west, toward the ocean, and his brothers unquestioningly follow. They walk, hitch rides when they can, steal tickets, and take a train for part of the way. They beg and steal food and sleep where they can, while police search and their story is splashed all over the media.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

This tale may be based on a fable, but it's not one of the happily-ever-after kind. Based on Charles Perrault's Hop o' My Thumb, this seamless translation from French, will, like so many European children's books, seem rather odd to American readers. Its disturbing ending leaves many questions unanswered. Why did Yann put his brothers through this ordeal? What will happen to him?

Told in first person, as if in testimony, from dozens of viewpoints -- the various brothers, parents, witnesses along the way, social worker, police, etc. -- the book is well-written and engrossing, if somewhat, in the way of fables, emotionally distant. Yann is an enigmatic protagonist, and readers won't feel that they know him, or any of the other characters. The ending is open-ended; Yann's motives, both for the journey he leads his brothers on and for his desire to continue west, are not clear; and ultimately, this fascinating story leaves the reader vaguely unsettled and unsatisfied.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the violence here: There is child abuse and the kids are locked up in the house and almost die -- but this is a fable. Do the magical elements of this story make the grittiness easier to handle?

  • Families who read this story together may want to discuss the open ending. What happens to Yann?

Book details

Author:Jean-Claude Mourlevat
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Delacorte Press
Publication date:November 21, 2006
Number of pages:190
Publisher's recommended age(s):12
Read aloud:11
Read alone:12
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

This review of The Pull of the Ocean was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 16 years old Written bythepulloftheocean August 27, 2009
age 13+
 

not necessary for under 13

I really enjoyed the book. No, it's not happy, but it makes you appreciate what you have, like most sad things do. Themes that grab you, and sometimes appal you, but you will be rivited.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

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