Bill is enjoying his experience aboard Pandora, training for the Sailing Youth Challenge, when a sudden and fierce storm quickly whips the idyllic sea off the Canary Islands into raging waves. As Pandora sinks, Bill fails to board the life raft with the rest of the crew but finds refuge in the yacht’s row boat. The boy survives the storm, but is left stranded, with very few supplies and unable to determine his position. After a few days at sea, his limited provisions dwindling as well as his hope of being rescued, Bill amazingly encounters a shipwrecked girl clinging to a floating barrel of water.
Her name is Aya, and through the conversations that follow, half hand gestures, half a mix of English, French and Arabic, Bill learns that Aya is Berber and that her boat was hit by the same storm that sunk the Pandora. As the days pass, Bill and Aya’s joint efforts allow them to survive by fishing and distilling water and creating a makeshift shelter from the pounding sun. Bill also finds great solace in Aya’s storytelling. Though the girl is reluctant to reveal her own past and the reasons that brought her to her current predicament, her abilities to recount tales allow Bill to forget for a while the harshness of their reality.
Then, one day, Bill and Aya reach shore. Their exploration reveals that it is an island they have found and that someone else is already there too. Stephan, a boy a little bit older than them, is apparently also a victim of the storm. Bill is wary of Stephan and something that Aya reveals to him, as well as the boy’s behaviour, convince him that Stephan could become a threat. His concerns are not unfounded and soon Stephan reveals a dark side. However, a violent altercation between Aya and Stephan leads to the boy’s death.
Though the island offers relative safety and resources, it soon becomes apparent that it is not within shipping or flight paths and that the possibility of being found there is unlikely. Aya eventually convinces Bill they need to take their chances and start sailing again.
Luck, though, is against them. Their solitude is broken by the arrival of a shark which initially follows them, then attacks them. Bill and Anya initially seem to fight off the animal, but not for long, with dramatic consequences. I shall not ruin prospective readers’ enjoyment by revealing the conclusion of this story.
In the ‘letter to the reader’ which accompanied the copy of the book I was sent, Chris Vick cites Life of Pi as one of the books that inspired him when writing this one. This brief outline of the plot may have revealed certain affinities and as a reader of Yann Martel’s book, I read the book very carefully, looking for clues and wondering whether Aya, Stephan and the island were real or indeed a creation of Bill’s mind, and wondered whether this story would have a similar denouement.
Yet, Vick’s plot follows a different plan and its closure will satisfy the younger readership to which this book appeals. In it, Aya’s strength of character is confirmed as well as Bill's belief in the strong bond that their shared ordeal had forged. This is the third novel by this author, whose expertise in marine conservation is obvious in the description of the setting and of the creatures that Bill and Aya encounter. It is a greatly readable book and the opening scene with the sinking of Pandora as well as the one describing the shark’s attack are real page turners, narrated with precision and evocatively. Equally, the sense of stillness and ineluctability that feature in other moments of the story are well evoked too. There is a good balance between the main story and Aya’s tales and her narrating voice is a strong one. When she finally recounts her own story to Bill, the reader is drafted into her world as much as Bill was into her fantasy tales.
Girl, Boy, Sea is a tale of survival which will appeal to middle grade readers.