I’ve only read one Hannah Moskowitz book before (Teeth – I love it with my entire heart) but I’m starting to recognise what I think could be the key features of her writing: messy characters and bitter humour, with a side of siblings and sea monsters. I love monster books above all else, especially as I’m going through a lighthousecore phase, and sibling books are a close second.
So, the summary: siblings Indi, Beleza, Oscar, and Zulu, are roaming the Mediterranean on their boat, killing sea monsters, and trying to hunt down the one that is rumoured to have killed their missing parents. Indi yearns for a calmer life and hopes that the treasure hinted at in their parents’ journal will provide his family with a means of escape from their dangerous life before it’s too late.
Most of the story focuses on the development of the characters, and the sibling relationship is my favourite part. Moskowitz shows a messy family where the eldest siblings are forced to act as parents, with constant fighting and bickering but still showing the good times and the deep love they have for each other. It’s a beautiful – and refreshing – family dynamic: an unconventional family with an unconventional life. Sibling relationships have a special place in my heart. And all of the siblings feel like real, developed, distinct people! A quick breakdown of them:
- Beleza is driven to find and kill the monster that supposedly killed their parents. She’s the leader: intense and protective, a hard fighter, willing to do just about anything to find that monster. She’s also the only sibling who lived a ‘normal’ life at one point, not on a boat, not hunting monsters.
- Indi is the caretaker, the doctor of the ship, patching everyone up after fights. He’s the one who is raising the younger siblings and constantly worries about what their lives will become if Beleza keeps pushing them too hard. He hates the lifestyle of killing monsters but is too co-dependent on his siblings to step away from it.
- Oscar is great at stealing pretty much anything he wants or thinks the family will need. He doesn’t have the best attitude, but most of it comes across as a tough façade. But he is also adorable.
- Zulu is a very rare instance of a younger child character in YA (I think she’s six) who is written as their age, not presented as someone even younger. She’s been trained from birth to fight alongside her siblings and butchers the monsters after they’ve been killed. She’s hyper and adorable and annoying, the perfect younger sibling.
One of the big themes in this book is about family, specifically the concept of home and identity within a family. For the siblings, they live on the ocean – and some of them were even born on the boat – so they don’t have a typical home. Their home is also their business. It’s Indi who spends most of his time wondering if there’s a home or a country where he truly belongs, figuring out if he and his siblings belong to the same groups as their parents or not. In reality, they belong to no place, only to each other.
I adore the setting of the book, the boat in particular. I’ve been on a sea monster / pirate / lighthousecore binge recently, and this is the first book that truly encapsulates the less glamorous parts of living on a ship. This ship is especially rickety and dilapidated and half of the equipment doesn’t work. There’s no privacy and nowhere to escape when you’re mad at someone. You’re wet and salty and there’s very little to do when you’re injured and away from shore for weeks or months at a time. I love the focus on these less than perfect details, and it added a lot of realism to the story and the setting for me, especially as a lot of the plot takes place on this ship.
The one thing that was missing from this book for me was more depth and development. It opens in the middle of a sea monster fight and the world expands and the backstory is revealed as the kids travel around, but the book is so short that there’s little time to go into the detail that I personally want. There’s few descriptions of the sea monsters and the world itself so reading this book did make me rely heavily on my imagination. There’s also sometimes a chapter worth of build-up to specific scenes, and then we never actually get to see the scene as it’s skipped over and only mentioned as a recap. This should technically make me give a lower star rating, but this was overshadowed by how much I loved the characters and the concept. I am easily pleased.
In summary, I loved so many parts of this book and the characters stole my heart. It’s a very fast paced and personal narrative about finding your place in the world when you’ve never really belonged in it.
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 stars)