A Swirl of Ocean Review and Interview

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A touching, timeless novel--perfect for fans of Lisa Graff and Lauren Wolk--about a girl who discovers that the ocean is holding secrets she never could have imagined.

Twelve-year-old Summer loves the ocean. The smell, the immensity, the feeling she gets when she dives beneath the surface. She has lived in Barnes Bluff Bay since she was two years old, when Lindy found her on the beach. It's been the two of them ever since. But now, ten years later, Summer feels uncertainty about her place with Lindy and starts to wonder about where she came from. One night, Summer goes for a swim and gets caught in a riptide, swallowing mouthfuls of seawater. And that night, she dreams of a girl. A girl her age living in the same town, but not in the same time. Summer's not persuaded that this girl is real, but something about her feels familiar.

Summer dreams again and again about this girl, Tink, and becomes convinced that she is connected to her past. As she sees Tink struggle with her sister growing away from her and her friends starting to pair off, Summer must come to terms with her own evolving home life and discover how the bonds that make us family can help heal the wounds of the past.

From Melissa Sarno, the author of Just Under the Clouds, comes a new story of discovery, family, and finding where you belong.

My Review: 

I feel as though the characters truly draw you in to each and every moment of their lives. With the dreams interwoven as chapters in the book, you’re immersed in lives that are mysterious; that you truly have to read every word to figure out. I love the unknown of parts of the plot, much like that of the ocean. This is a story to be shared, and loved.

Teacher Reviews: 

Reviewers Praise for A SWIRL OF OCEAN:
“[T]he restless interplay between moon and sea becomes a framework for exploring the uneasy intertidal zone between childhood and adult maturity. How preteen girls negotiate this supremely trying life passage is explored in some of the year's best middle-grade releases; add this to the list.” --Kirkus Reviews
"[A] deeply affecting novel with honest emotion. Propelled by authentic characters, the adroitly woven plot meshes past and present, dreams and reality, and love and friendship. [A]n involving, bracing summer tale for all seasons."--Publishers Weekly
"[R]ich with imagery and thoughtful contemplations...the way in which Summer ends up being connected to Tink highlight[s] the dreamy tranquility of the girls’ seaside town."--The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself as an author and
everyday person? What are your likes/dislikes?
A: I am also a mother, so a lot of my time is dedicated
to my 5 year old and 2 year old. We live north of
New York City, in a more rural area, and a lot of our
activities involve playing on nearby farms, going out in the
forest, and wading through creeks to catch frogs. We like to
 get dirty. When I have some rare time to myself, I run,
hike, or bake cakes. And, if I’m not writing, or doing
any of the above…I’m reading.
Q: When did you know you had a gift of writing?  
A: I discovered a love of writing when I was a young girl.
I would sit in my room, on my scratchy green rug, and
write stories in marble notebooks. I wrote my first novel
when I was twelve. It was called Ten Is Enough and was
loosely (i.e. entirely) based on the sitcom: Eight Is Enough.

In seventh grade my English teacher, Mr. Bell, took one
of my assignments and hung it up on the bulletin board
because he liked my story so much. He hadn’t done
that with anyone else’s work and it made me think
that, maybe, writing was something I was good at.
Q: Where did the inspiration come for A Swirl of Ocean?
A: A Swirl of Ocean was inspired by a dream I had years
 ago about a girl and the ocean. It was one of those hazy,
blurry dreams, I could sense more than see
and I had a
deep feeling in my gut that it was about a girl who was a
part of the ocean and the ocean was a part of her. I didn’t
know what that meant or where it would lead but every time
I thought about what I would write “next” I thought of that girl. 

Years later I was watching a documentary about the secrets
of the ocean and how we can understand and uncover
 entire histories and civilizations by studying the depths
of the ocean floor. It fascinated me that the ocean could
 “hold” on to a history and I began to wonder what it would
be like if we could understand that history in mysterious ways,
 by making the ocean a part of who we are, too.

My main character, Summer, wants to understand something
about her own history. Her own past. And she learns it by
capturing ocean water, swallowing it, and dreaming an
entire mysterious history that she slowly learns belongs to her.

Q: Did you do any research for A Swirl of Ocean?
A: I had to do research on turtles and shells. I learned
about the Diamondback Terrapin, one of the few turtles
who live in brackish water, which is marshland. And
the spirula shell, which is found in more tropical climates,
and comes from a ram’s horn squid. A sighting of a ram’s
 horn squid is very rare because they live in the depths of
 the ocean, so most people have only seen their shells.
Q; What was the hardest scene to write?
A: All of them! Drafting is a long, difficult process that
 I often find quite painful. It isn’t until I get to the revision
 stage, when I feel like I finally have the framework for
 the story and characters, that I can refine, gain some
momentum, and put together an intricate puzzle.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: In middle grade, I recently finished the fantastic graphic
 memoir by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham, Best Friends, and the beautiful My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder.
I also read a lot of adult literary fiction and I’m catching
up on a new-to-me Japanese author, Banana Yoshimoto,
whose spare prose, even in translation, is really amazing.
Q: How do you get started on your writing, and what
advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?
A: Writing, for me, started out as play. It was a “game” I
 played on the computer, typing little sentences and stories
on the keyboard, watching them disappear, then turning on
the computer the next day to write something else. I began
to enjoy it so much, I started to get those thick marble
 notebooks at the drugstore and fill them up with stories.

My best advice for young writers is to be observant. Look
at your world, think about your day, the people around you,
the places you go, and write down the things you find most
interesting. Keep a notebook and try to fill it, each day, with
 just one thing, big or small, that intrigued you. Those little
tidbits start to add up and sometimes they spark ideas for a 
larger story.

Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students?
Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: I mostly write on the computer. If I’m stuck, I often scurry
 over to a notebook and write a little bit there. It gives me a new
 view. Then, once I’m un-stuck, I type what I wrote and keep going.

Once I finish a first draft, I usually let my work sit for a while.
 I do other things I love: read, bake, play with my kids, or go
 running. Once I’ve had that time away, could be weeks or months,
I read the book over and I think about what isn’t working or
what could be better. Then I start to list the things I’d need to
do to make them better. Sometimes, I don’t know what would
 help, so I just let the problem sit in the back of my mind and
hope that, someday, I’ll figure it out. Usually, with time, I do.
Once I’ve made one revision, I send it someone else to read. I
get that person’s feedback and then I’ll go through the process
again. I’ll go through that process again and again until I feel
it’s ready. It’s a long slog but it’s the only way I know of doing it.
Q: Future projects that you are currently working on? 
A: I am currently revising one very messy novel and writing
a new one whose idea I can’t seem to shake. I’ve never played
with two stories at the same time before, so that’s new for me.
 It just feels like the right thing to do at this moment, to be involved
 with both.
Q: What else would you like teachers and young readers to know?
A: When I was a young girl, I wanted to be an author but a lot
 of the books I read were written by authors who were dead! I
didn’t know anyone in my life who had a creative job, like
being a writer or an artist. So, it wasn’t something I thought I
could do and, yet, it was the only thing I actually wanted to do. I
want young people to know that writing is a job and it’s an
important one because stories can change the world. If it’s
 something you want to do in your life, remember, there are
many people out there who do it as a job. They can be examples
 to you. Many of them teach writing classes or provide mentorship
or editing services so, sometimes, you can even learn from your
favorite writers.  


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