Worse than Boys by Catherine MacPhail

Nim at Sea

by Wendy Orr

Published by Allen & Unwin/Knopf Books

192 pages, 2007




Paradise Abandoned

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


Nim at Sea is the sequel to Nim’s Island, which has been made into a movie due for release in the summer of 2008. The movie version, filmed in Australia, stars Gerard Butler, Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster. In other words, anticipate a significant release. While Nim at Sea will be released in the UK and North America early in 2008 -- well in advance of the movie's release --- you can get your Australian copy now.

I didn't read Nim at Sea. I managed well enough with explanations about what had happened in the first novel, in which travel writer Alex Rover arrives on the island young Nim shares with her father, Jack. My guess, though, is that I would probably have gotten more out of the second book if I had read the first, and understood the relationships between the characters. In some ways, it feels like the second half of a single novel -- with a little editing, removing the explanations, it probably could be.

The only book by Wendy Orr I had read before was the rather grim Peeling The Onion, in which a teenager who had been an athlete is now confined to a wheelchair and has to get her life in order. Of course, teenagers enjoy tragic tales -- at least, the ones I know do -- and it was a good story for its audience. Nontheless, it was a pleasant surprise to come to Nim at Sea -- a book intended for younger readers -- and find it gentle and funny and warm.

Nim and her father -- who have the unlikely name of Rusoe, which they have to keep explaining -- live on an island paradise which they are trying to protect from tourists and environmental damage. Nim’s mother died in an accident involving a whale she was studying (don’t ask!). Nim has been brought up without the company of other children and her best friends are a sea lion called Selkie and a marine iguana known as Fred. In the first book they were joined by Alex Rover, a popular travel writer who is a little klutzy. It’s her klutziness, early in this second book, that leads to a heated exchange with Nim, who can’t make up her mind whether she wants Alex to stay and share her father, or go. Alex decides she had better not stay where she isn’t wanted and leaves, without so much as a message to Jack. Meanwhile, Selkie is seal-napped by a wildlife poacher, the  Professor, who gives lectures on a cruise ship and sells his captive animals afterwards. Nim follows, accompanied by Fred, and finds new friends -- and bizarre things such as ice cream and television -- on the cruise ship, while awaiting her chance to rescue all the animals.

Jack, whose boat was destroyed in the last novel, follows on a raft. Alex, trying to get back to New York, takes a cabin on the ship, where she sleeps out the voyage and everything comes to a head in New York City.

There is an endearing silliness about parts of this story, such as the woman who delivers canine cakes in New York and the more-or-less acceptance of a girl accompanied by a seal and an iguana. It’s nice that the author hasn’t forgotten that, living on an island, Nim would never have experienced most aspects of daily life in the city, such as showers and ice cream. Still, island paradise or not, Nim’s island is equipped with e-mail and receives supplies from the mainland, which is fair enough in the modern world, where there are no mysterious, unexplored South American plateaux or hidden Shangri-Las. You do wonder how they have managed to keep the island hidden from tour operators, but this book is basically a fantasy and you need to suspend disbelief. It probably won’t occur to most child readers anyway.

And it's nice to see a story in which the female characters are strong without taking anything away from the males: Nim’s new friends are a sister and brother, Erin and Ben, and both are helpful.

Recommended for children in middle to late primary school years. | October 2007


Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.