Chris Benjamin Reviews A Bend in the Breeze: With files from Nelly Benautio
A Bend in the Breeze
DCB Young Readers/Cormorant Books
I read an advanced review copy of A Bend in the Breeze by Valerie Sherrard to my nine-year-old daughter over a two-month period (a little bit every other night). The first thing I should note is that the book is listed as intended for the 9-12 age range, so my daughter is at the younger end of that spectrum. I think she could have read it herself without issue. Reading it aloud was a lot of fun and likely introduced her to some new vocabulary. She occasionally asked about meaning and I think other times she figured out some new words by context.
A very brief recap of the plot (no spoilers): 11-year-old Pascale Chardon is washed ashore in a lifeboat on the island of TeJÉ , and the islands believe she may be the prophesied “Long Awaited,” destined to assess their ability to live together harmoniously, and tell them their fate, after 17 days with them. The last thing she remembers, Pascale was on a ship with her family, and all she wants is to be rescued and return to them. But she finds among the islanders a quirky bunch of characters who, while imperfect as individuals have found a way to occupy a small space together as a community based in kindness and generosity.
I asked my daughter what she liked most about this book. Usually when I ask this, she will name specific characters. In this case, she noted Inch, Pascale’s fellow castaway, who is a beetle (who without spoiling anything I’ll say plays an important role in the story), as well as the island itself, the funny village elders and the unexpected ending.
Indeed, this book has much to like. As an adult, it was a pleasure to read a book for kids that delighted in language. The telling of the tale was eloquent and languished in the words themselves, as it used them to delightedly describe those self-centred elders and their love of naps, or the deep longing of one character for the most beautiful stone he’s ever seen.
Personally, my favourite thing about this tale was its sense of wonder and effective use of magic realism. The amount of backstory explaining the existence of this isolated island of quirky innocents was just enough, presented as such then left alone. I liked that Sherrard didn’t overexplain it, or the wondrous event at the end fulfilling the prophesy. It happened in an unexpected, yet awe-inspiring way, that tied up loose ends without feeling forced.
That’s the main appeal of A Bend in the Breeze, but what makes it memorable is its depiction of a community of imperfect humans looking out for one another, the way communities often do. In their isolated, self-reliant case, the result was a Utopia of sorts, sustainable and egalitarian and fair. Not easily re-created in our more complicated, scaled up real world, but certainly something worth attempting. Looking out for the wellbeing of those around us remains a worthy endeavour.