My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When sixteen-year-old Ethan Shumway walks down the driveway towards Baker’s Bottom Pond, no one in his family could have known it would be the last time they’d ever see him. Both tragic and resilient, The Odd Sea follows the story of a family coping with the sudden loss of a son and brother.
Ethan’s younger brother Philip watches helplessly as his mother descends into manic depression and his father throws himself into manual labor as a means to deal with his grief. Meanwhile, Philip’s sisters deal with loss in polar opposite ways. The eldest relies on anger and avoidance, while the younger latches onto Philip.
Philip’s naïve hope of finding his brother plays out as he spends his free time searching the woods and Ethan’s favorite places. He hangs out with Ethan’s girlfriend and reads his diary for any clues that might lead to where his brother is hiding. As Philip gets older, his search changes shape as he realizes the possibility that Ethan could be dead. He never truly accepts that reality, but he learns there is a delicate balance between hope and the truth.
The emotional journey of loss deepens with each passing year as the hole of Ethan’s absence never really closes. While Philip and his family find different ways of living with their grief, all find comfort in the love they have for each other.
Frederick Reiken explores the impact of a missing person with so much intensity, Ethan’s disappearance becomes a personal experience. He makes solid choices in imagery that beautifully reflect the emotional conflict between grief, frustration, and guilt from needing to move forward. Subtle and simplistic, Reiken’s writing allows a highly charged story to flow naturally without turning into something melodramatic and unbelievable. This careful sense of storytelling is what makes an unconventional ending work in such a beautiful and realistic way.
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