I loved Nizrana Farook’s debut read that came out in 2020 and have been eagerly awaiting her second book (given that it came out in January 2021 I feel slightly embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get round to reading and reviewing it). After bringing alive the jungles of Serendib in The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, this time Farook delivers a thrilling adventure across the sands and seas around the fictional island that is a reimagined version of her birthplace, Sri Lanka.
Razi loves his early morning trips to the beach to watch the newly hatched turtles making their maiden journey to the ocean. One morning takes a very surprising turn when a bedraggled young boy washes up on the shore clinging to life in a small boat. Badly sunburnt and in desperate need of food and water, Zheng makes little sense. He talks of wild adventures, dangerous villains and long lost treasure.
Razi and his sister, Shifa, are unsure if the boy is confused, truthful or whether his stories are wildly exaggerated. But the sudden arrival of angry men means there is no time to question further. With the three children now firmly in the sights of the villains, the only choice is to follow their instincts and that means heading out into the ocean on an adventure that will take them further than they have ever been before…
In her second book, Farook delivers another brilliant adventure story where the stakes are high and with nasty villains who will go to any lengths to get what they want, including murder. Kidnap, peril, danger, wonderful ocean animals and heart-stopping moments all combine beautifully in a read that has you constantly wondering if everyone will make it back alive.
Farook wastes no time in thrusting readers right into the heart of the action. The opening line, “The boy clung to the rail with a death grip as the ship lurched violently in the storm,” easily grabs the attention as readers are catapulted into a terrifying storm out at sea. By the end of page two the ship’s crew are dead - possibly murdered - and two pages later, as chapter one ends, the ship has sunk and a young boy has narrowly escaped on a rowing boat. And from here the action and intensity never lets up. Fast-paced, gripping, thrilling and enthralling it most certainly is.
The backdrop for all this action, the beautiful fictional island of Serendib which is once again imagined as a lush island paradise and is brought vividly to life. Farook has a wonderful way with words and her rich descriptive vocabulary immerses readers into the sights, sounds and smells of the island and it easy to imagine yourself being there sitting on the sandy beach, listening to the sound of the waves, seeking the shade of a coconut tree, drinking straight from a coconut to quench the thirst and then gorging on mangosteens. Oh how blissful Farook makes life sound.
Traditions and traditional lifestyle are effortlessly woven into the narrative. Fisherman rise early from their beach front accommodation to head out to sea and sell their catch from their boats on the shore whilst women head to work at the lace mill. There’s even a medicine man who Shifa loves spending time with learning how to make traditional medicines and tinctures.
Razi, Shifa and Zheng are all wonderful characters and the theme of friendship is central to the narrative. Despite their doubts about Zheng, the siblings can not resist helping someone in need and are determined to see no harm come to their new acquaintance. This is also the catalyst for Razi to head back into the ocean - something that he has avoided since the death of his father out at sea - and ultimately helps him come to terms with his grief and and to find his way back to the ocean where he truly feels like he belongs. Together, the children epitomise bravery, resilience, determination and what it takes to overcome your fears.
Farook has written a narrative that you will not want to put down and with short chapters that end on cliffhangers there is always the need to read just one more. A gripping adventure that middle-grade children will delight in.
Recommended for 8+.