About Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres: Fifteen-year-old Sula has always known she is different. Even though her parents have shown her nothing but love and acceptance, she sees her dark skin as a reminder of how she doesn’t fit in with the rest of her family.
What’s worse is she also feels that her parents are hiding something from her. After getting expelled from school, Sula reluctantly goes to stay with her mother’s friends. There she unexpectedly finds herself on a journey of self-discovery — a journey that keeps drawing her to the sea. Sula must not only figure our her parents’ secret, but also just how different, and possibly magical, she really is.
My two centsSula is an unusual child. She knows she is different because of her dark skin, of her strange abilities, and because she knows her parents have a secret that is somehow linked to her.
When I first started it—after much affection for the beautifully illustrated cover and matching bookmarks—I was much more fixated on the magical and mystical side of things. I was fixated on the possibility that Sula was a mermaid - after all, why did she have these strange powers? What were her parents hiding about their sea voyage on a traditional sea vessel back when they were still young? And what, if any, did that have anything to do with Sula's origins?
As the story started to round out, I was pleasantly surprised at how the mystical was woven into a highly nuanced tale of self-identity. This delves into the culture and practices of the Sama Dilaut, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines, better known as sea gypsies. I grew up knowing this tribe locally as Badjao (more here). I think that this is truly the heart of the story, a melding of the mystical with culture, history, and dare I say it, harsh reality.
Now, what made me extremely curious was Torres's personal connection with the Sama Dilaut story. I was rewarded at the end in her acknowledgements where she recounts that in elementary school, she was fascinated with this tribe's seafaring traditions and their dependence on the sea. She recalls that one practice was the throwing of newborns into the sea so they could learn how to swim.
I felt a little like that with this story - it has reminded me that I have only scratched the surface of literature from the Philippines. In this sea of global literature, I think it's only fair that I exert some effort in hearing the stories from my homeland.
VerdictFrom unusual names to unpredictable storylines, here's a book that surprised me! This is one of my fave finds for the year — full of mermaids, sea gypsies, life out on the open sea, many inexplicable things and secrets all around. Yes, it's all that and more. If you're looking for young adult reading with plenty of surprises thrown in and with a cultural twist, then this is it. To be honest, even the paranormal in this was palatable to me! A truly unique read and I'm happy to recommend this to everyone.
This book was provided to me by the author for review consideration.