North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

North of NowhereReading level: 5-6th grade
Genre: Magical realism, mystery
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

The sleepy seaside village of Porthaven hides a mystery: Mia’s grandad has vanished, and nobody knows why. When Mia and her mom rush to Porthaven to help her grandmother, Mia imagines long dreary days with no one to talk to except for the old-time fisherman at her grandparents’ pub. But that’s before Mia finds a diary on an empty, docked fishing boat and starts exchanging notes with a local girl named Dee, a girl who seems much like her. Mia is excited about having a new friend, but why do their plans to meet each other never materialize? And why does Dee claim to be stuck at home due to violent storms when Mia sees only sunny skies? Will Mia be able to solve the mystery of where — and when — her grandfather and friend might be before time and tide forever wash away their futures?

This book, my friends, knocked my socks off.

North of Nowhere is an astoundingly clever little book. We have Mia’s thirteen-year-old narration voice combined with other mysterious voices written in italics throughout the story, and we don’t really know who those people are until the end (unless you’ve made some educated guesses earlier on). One mystery starts immediately with an odd compass. The next mystery is that Mia’s grandfather disappears. Then Mia’s new friend disappears as well, there’s an island ravaged by a storm that happened fifty years ago but that Mia witnesses…

Wow.

At first, there’s not much to suggest that the story has any sort of magical components, and it seems perfectly realistic except for clues here and there. Some of those clues that there is something going on between past and present include that compass from the beginning, a sailor who doesn’t recognize anyone at a place he frequents, men saying that the island Mia’s friend lives on does not exist… It just builds and builds until it pretty much blows your mind as Mia and her friend take a boat to that island on a rescue mission only to return for help, get back to the island, and find a whole new scene. When this genre is done right, it sure is great.

The one complaint I have is that the ending was sort of like the ending of every Scooby-Doo show: the gang stands around and asks “But how did you know who the monster really was?” and someone explains the whole mystery step by step.  But it is a middle level book, after all, written for middle schoolers, so the clear explanation wasn’t out of context.

North of Nowhere is also written to that middle school age group. I felt that Mia’s voice was really speaking to the reader and could connect with younger kiddos. Even though, to me, she was just another teenage girl wanting to make friends and have fun, Mia’s voice was incredibly realistic.

Aside from some sentence fragments and marine-specific vocabulary, it’s ELL friendly. I mean, the traveling in time bit gets confusing, but as long as students can understand relationships between characters and going backwards and forwards in time, ELLs should have no more trouble than native English speakers.

I made an educated guess about the reading level since the book is too new to be listed with Scholastic.

North of Nowhere is my sixteenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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