The Killing Sea

The Killing Sea

Author: Richard Lewis

Publication: 2006, Simon and Schuster

Pages: 183

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Ruslan and Sarah are from different worlds.  But when a giant tsunami strikes the Aceh region of Indonesia they both find their lives thrown into chaos.  Ruslan is searching for his missing father, and trying to dodge the military authorities who have pegged him as a rebel sympathizer.  Sarah is desperately trying to find medical help for her sick brother.  Together they travel through the destruction, barely able to comprehend the endless death and misery as they struggle to survive.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: The tsunami of 2004 was one of the worst natural disasters in history.  250,000 people were killed – almost 200,000 in Indonesia alone.  For weeks, it was one of the only things on the news and there was a lot of very graphic footage.  But Lewis manages to bring the story of the disaster home in a much more personal way.  Instead of a parade of gruesome images, we get to experience the tsunami through the eyes of two teens –both the terrifying moments of the wave itself and the equally horrifying aftermath.  The bloated corpses of friends and neighbors, the mass graves, the orphans, the sick and dying – it’s all there, presented in stark reality.

But this isn’t just a survival story, it’s also a story of human transformation – of how confronting the worst that the world has to offer can sometimes make us better people.  I’ll be blunt, Sarah starts off as an obnoxious, self-centered jerk.  There’s nothing new in that.  The transformation from jerk to decent person is a pretty common theme.  Unfortunately, many authors spend too much time on the jerk phase.  Lewis takes a much lighter touch.  He shows just enough of Sarah’s early personality to drive the point home.  Then the tsunami hits.  Sarah doesn’t change right away, but the disaster forces her to take on a huge new responsibility and blunts the harsher edges of her personality enough that I was able to start liking her.

What I Liked the Least: This was a minor issue, but Ruslan’s family has connections to Acehnese rebels.  Aceh province was the site of a long-running civil war that killed more than 10,000 people and finally came to end not long after the tsunami hit.  It makes sense for Lewis to bring the rebels into the story, as they were an important part of life in the region.  But he took it a bit far. Ruslan keeps getting questioned.  By the third time, it started to feel like a distraction – and an unnecessary one at that given all the important things going on in the story.  Like Lewis was just looking for an excuse to throw in a few more action sequences.

How Good was the Action? The scenes when the tsunami rolls in are intense.  There’s no other way to describe it.  You can’t help but get caught up in the action as the water is rising – chasing Ruslan and Sarah, dragging people under, crushing houses, uprooting trees.  It’s like a living beast, destroying everything in its path.  And Ruslan and Sarah’s desperation leapt off the page.

Later action sequences were okay.  There are a couple of chases and one scene where a drowning water buffalo tries to climb into their boat.  All of them were quite short – over almost before they’d started – and none could even begin to compare to the intensity of those scenes with the tsunami.

How Engaging was the Story?   Ruslan is all alone, on a desperate search for his father.  Each time he thinks he’s stumbled across his dad’s corpse is heart wrenching.  And we literally watch Sarah’s parents die.  She and her brother are stranded on a devastated island.  As her brother gets sicker and weaker, and the hope of ever finding a doctor seems to fade away, it’s impossible not to get caught up in their struggle to survive.  Lewis alternates chapters between Ruslan and Sarah, and does an excellent job of getting under the skin of these two very different people and making us care.

Overall Assessment: The Killing Sea is a powerful story of survival amid the utter devastation of one of the worst natural disasters in history.  Reading it will bring you as close as you should ever hope to get to the reality of utter death and destruction, while still offering a strong note of hope.

Profanity: None

Sex: A mild kiss and a few brief references to nudity

Violence: There’s not a lot of human violence, but this book is full of death and destruction.  People die in very grim, but real, ways.  This was a massive natural disaster that killed more than 250,000 people and Lewis has done his best to make that tragedy real.  Expect to feel shaken as you read.

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