On the Edge
On the Edge
In spite of the rain her spirits are high. She whistles a silly tune as she returns from her outing. And there, wedged into the locked hatch cover, is a folded piece of paper. She pulls the paper out and unfolds it. Another black pebble just like the other three falls out.
“You’re doing great. Take care,” the note says. A shiver passes through her. With the piece of paper clutched tightly in her fist, Emma studies the boats nearby to see if anyone meets her eye or looks suspicious.
Who’s watching her? Where are they? What’s going on?
She quickly unlocks the hatch and stows her purchases below. Then she casts off and motors away from the crowded dock all the while peering over her shoulder for signs that someone is watching or following her, but no one moves on any of the boats. No one that she can see, at least.
When she’s out of sight of the town dock and away from the houses that line the shore, she drops her anchor. She feels safer out here, away from people. But why should she? Why is it safer here? She doesn’t know the answer. She just knows what she feels.
From her hiding place in the shadow of a huge cypress tree she watches the water for any approaching boats. The dripping branches hang down to the water and the tree’s roots extend like dozens of bony fingers into the mud. Anyone coming close will have to push past the cavern of the tree. The rain pelts down and Emma huddles inside on the bench, her arms wrapped around her knees. She goes over in her head what just happened.
Another pebble. And now a note. Why leave a note? It must be because whoever it is wants her to know for certain that she’s being watched, followed.
Followed! Followed! The words churn around in her head. This is insane! Nuts! Anger boils up inside her. She was so proud of her disguise, her escape, and now she realizes she hasn’t escaped. Her disguise didn’t fool this person, whoever it is. Panic rises up in her throat. And swiftly anger flashes through her again like a roaring flame. It burns itself out in a few seconds leaving behind a kind of blank stillness.
Four black pebbles and a note giving her a compliment. She’s doing great. Emma considers her reaction. Has she been so paranoid about getting away that she considers only the sinister, only the threatening side of everything that happens?
She lets the question sink in. What if this person is an ally? A friend? But who could it possibly be?
Emma Visser has lived a very structured and secluded life on her aunt and uncle’s farm for the past nine years since becoming an orphan at age five. Her life before that mostly remains a mystery, save for a few memories that come to her in her dreams and nightmares. Her only form of escape from the abuse her aunt subjects her to is sneaking away from the farm to learn to sail with her elderly friend, Jess.
Emma’s life, as she knows it, takes a drastic turn when she learns that Jess is actually her grandmother and has left her beloved sailboat, The Edge, her house, and an inheritance to Emma upon her passing. Emma also receives a letter from her grandmother and a mysterious newspaper clipping that seems to point to her mother’s being alive and well in the Bahamas. Upon learning this information, Emma feels compelled to set sail on The Edge to find her mother and discover more about her past. Her only other alternative is to return to her abusive aunt who is trying to sell the sailboat out from under her.
The 14-year-old sets sail, dodging customs officials, facing navigational errors, a robbery, fatigue, and sabotage on her boat whilst trying to avoid curious sailors who may question why she is out on her own in foreign waters. To make matters worse, she begins to suspect that she’s being followed, finding evidence such as muddy footprints, small black pebbles placed on her boat, and a note. Despite these roadblocks, the resilient young girl remains undeterred as she continues her quest to find her mother.
This book is author Lesley Strutt’s most recent young adult novel. Strutt is a published poet, playwright, essayist, and blogger. Her poetry collection, Window Ledge, is set to be released by Inanna Publications in 2020. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from McGill University. Her love of storytelling flourished by growing up in a world filled with storytelling and space to foster her imagination. She is an experienced sailor, having sailed from Lake Ontario to the Turks and Caicos in 2002 and 2003, spending several months sailing around the Bahamian islands.
On the Edge is part of Inanna Publications’ young feminist series which showcases the experiences of diverse Canadian women. The book’s protagonist, Emma, certainly fits the bill. She is a character that readers are likely to relate to and be inspired by. Navigating a boat from Canada to the Bahamas is no small feat, but the resilient teen handles herself with grace and an unwavering spirit, persevering despite the many adversaries she faces. An adventure text with a strong female lead is a refreshing, and much needed addition to the genre, and readers in the target audience are likely to enjoy and appreciate the novel.
As Emma sets sail, the author creates vivid imagery that brings the journey to life for the reader. The setting of this text is particularly important to the reader’s experience of the major plot events, and Strutt does it justice through pairing descriptive imagery and figurative language with stunning illustrations. The colourful illustrations are part of the text, itself, as Emma creates a visual diary of her travels. The detailed description and illustrations of the various settings that Emma passes through, most likely inspired by the author’s own journey, create an accurate and striking experience for the reader.
On the Edge is a well-developed tale in which thriller, adventure, and coming-of-age genres collide. The suspenseful aspects are well-balanced with the main character’s literal and metaphorical journey of self-discovery. The book speaks to many important topics of interest relevant to teens, such as family, friendships, conflict, survival, identity, feminism, and resilience. I believe that this book would be a relevant and appreciated read for those in the target audience, particularly girls who can relate to or may become inspired by the protagonist’s resilient spirit.
Chasity Findlay is a graduate of the Master of Education program in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba and an avid reader of young adult fiction.