Review Blog

Dec 17 2019

The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9780571332816.
(Age: 10-12) Highly recommended. At last, a book to challenge young minds! A book with some substance! The Somerset Tsunami takes the young reader to another place and time - to the socio- economic and political landscape of early seventeenth century Somerset. For the Australian child, this is a leap. Not only is the geography unfamiliar but the vernacular, the lifestyle - everything that goes on in the lives of the characters is of another time.
Emma Carroll brings historical fiction alive. The Somerset Tsunami storyline develops through the voice of Fortune, a brave and smart heroine. She comes from a poor family who live in a tiny hamlet called Fair Maidens Lane, somewhere on the Bristol Channel. Carroll locates the story in a time of great social divide where the poor cottagers lived powerless hand-to-mouth existences with the greater social evils of the slave and sugar trades as a backdrop. The role of women in society at that time is painted for the reader and the threat of Witchcraft trials overhang the characters as they fight for survival. Family love and loyalty tie the characters together in the face of constant danger.
As well-known by today's inhabitants, a tsunami did destroy the coastal hamlets in Somerset changing lives forever and perhaps offering new opportunities to the brave. The rush of the tsunami mirrors the chilling rate of challenges faced by the characters as they try to evade their pursuers.
Carroll presents a cast of well-rounded characters. Gender roles are explored. The characters are not stereotypical and they survive and thrive. This is great representation of difference for young readers to empathise with. Our heroine, for one, is no shrinking violet - eventually going to sea as a sailor. Carroll allows her characters to grow into themselves with natural acceptance of whatever that may be. Love and relationships and what one does for love of the other are central to the story.
This book would be ideal for age 10 to 12 stronger readers and would work well as a serial read. Young readers could be encouraged to use their atlases and explore historical themes arising from the book that interest them.
Wendy Jeffrey

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