BookBrowse Reviews The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

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The Last True Poets of the Sea

by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake X
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
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  • Published:
    Oct 2019, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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Violet Larkin spends the summer at her family's ancestral home in Maine after her brother's suicide attempt. While there, she joins local teens in the search for the shipwreck that figures into her family's history.

There is one fact that defines Violet Larkin's family: her great-great-great grandmother was the sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of Maine. Fidelia Hathaway somehow made her way to shore through the rocks, the crashing waves, and the storm, staggered to the home of Ransome Rudolph, and fell in love. Now, the town of Lyric is named for the ship lost somewhere off its coast, and its motto is "Their Love Was Our Beginning." Violet's mother grew up in Lyric, the family spent summer after summer in the old farmhouse, and her Uncle Toby still lives there. Violet has returned to Lyric for another summer, without her brother Sam, who is in a residential facility in Vermont after a suicide attempt. Bisexual party-girl Violet is a bit out of place in quaint Lyric, but she makes close friends (and maybe a romantic soulmate) through her job at the local aquarium. And one of those new friends has a theory about the famous shipwreck that could change the history the family has created for itself. The friends—along with Sam, who turns up after absconding from the facility—set off one climactic weekend, determined to locate the wreck of the Lyric.

For people dealing with a lot of angst—Violet's brother is mentally ill, Violet herself has given up a promising career in Broadway musicals for reasons she gradually reveals, new friend Liv's brother died not long ago in an accident—these teens are portrayed with loving humor. Even Vi, who initially comes across as abrasive, selfish and unsympathetic, shows a deeper sweet side with her affection for the aquarium manager's dog Boris and her relationship with her uncle (who has unexplored issues of his own; it obviously runs in the family).

Violet and co-worker Orion, who both love music, truly come into their own when they decide to collaborate on a fundraiser for the struggling aquarium: an original musical about ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. The idea, and the snippets of scenes described, sound delightful—but make the reader want more. David Levithan developed the musical-within-a-story from Will Grayson, Will Grayson—his collaboration with John Green—into a libretto spinoff, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story; Violet and Orion's Cousteau! has possibilities!

The search for the wreck of the Lyric begins as a light-hearted teen road trip up the coast, following intriguing historical clues assembled by Violet and Liv, but quickly descends into near-disaster when Sam disappears and Violet—knowing he is both obsessed with the wreck, and potentially suicidal—goes in search of her brother. Whether or not the siblings in distress see a ship at the bottom of the sea is largely irrelevant; the search, not the actual finding, has been the point all along. Gradually, the Larkin family begins a long, slow recovery from its own private wreck, of which Sam's suicide attempt is just the most obvious plank above the waterline.

The coastal Maine setting, where Midcoast becomes Downeast (for non-Mainers, that's about four hours north of Portland) is lovingly described, complete with rocky shores, seasonal lobster shacks, equally seasonal tourists and tourist attractions, and also the signs of economic hard times on the outskirts of town. A handful of details seem more incongruous; for instance, the teens swim in the "summer-warmed" waters of a bay—far north enough that the Atlantic is seldom if ever "warm," especially after the week of sweatshirt-cold rain Violet complains about. Later, though Lyric is described as a smallish town, it apparently has a hospital—though hospitals in northern coastal Maine are few and far between.

Nevertheless, The Last True Poets of the Sea is a rich novel about a troubled teen finding her roots and her emotional center, set evocatively in a long summer on the New England shore.

This review is from the The Last True Poets of the Sea. It first ran in the October 16, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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