From Seven to the Sea

Jayne Joso
Publication Date: 
Monday, February 18, 2019
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‘With this tender story of trauma in a child's life, brimming with sympathy and insight, Jayne Joso hymns the compassion of strangers and the consolations of the sea.’ – Horatio Clare

‘A beautifully written and masterfully calibrated portrayal of the search for sanctuary and enchantment within a childhood under siege.’ – Chloe Aridjis

From Seven to the Sea explores the emotions of childhood and an almost limitless capacity for imagination, invention, and fearlessness as it charts the survival of seven-year-old Esther as she negotiates her mother and stepfather’s dysfunction, and a school environment that exposes her to further prejudice and injustice.

It is a window onto the world of a child who rejects convention and expectation, and who embarks on an expedition into liberty and freethinking; and who, each day, in place of school, sets out to sea.




Review by George Foster, Buzz Magazine

Monday, April 29, 2019

From Seven To The Sea delivers a story about the struggles of starting a new family, as told from the perspective of seven-year-old Esther. This is really what sets the book apart. Despite the weight of circumstances like a neglectful stepfather and the loss of her relationship with her mother, Esther views things with a naive, youthful optimism. As you’d expect from the title, the sea also plays a powerful role in the book, guiding Esther throughout the hardships and shaping her by the end. Esther’s tale is told so well and with such a unique perspective that it almost disappoints by not having more story to tell.

Review by Judy Darley, SkyLightRain

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

My overwhelming impression of Jayne Joso’s novel From Seven To The Sea is of glittering sunlight that blinks off every surface until you can only see your surroundings through the shards of your own eyelashes. Beautiful, but brimming with half-glimpses of potential treachery.

Esther is an exceptional child, gifted with a view of the world muddled through intoxicatingly with joy, music and hope. She has a talent for making allies of every person or dog she encounters.

Until, that is, she meets the man.

“The man, it would transpire, had a long list of ‘rules’, a long list of ‘dislikes’… things that caused him ‘displeasure’ and on top of this, a list of ‘hates.’ (…) But more than any of these, he hated on sight, and would come to detest, Esther, just turned seven.”

The man is, unfortunately, her new stepfather. As her seventh birthday falls into disarray and she’s swept to a new home, we’re buoyed by Esther’s resilience even as each act against her happiness, usually perpetrated by the man, wounds us.

As wrongfooted as she is to have been uprooted, Esther’s natural buoyancy leads her to the many havens in her neighbourhood, from a room full of African artefacts that become her pals, to a den she creates under trees in the garden, to the wondrous place where sea meets shore.

But with school soon to start again, Esther seems to have been frozen in time, a detail emphasised by the fact she appears to have stopped growing. It’s as though even her body is working to keep her safe by keeping her small and inconsequential.

Joso captures all the anxiety and dread of a first day at a new school in a single perfectly drawn paragraph. “Somehow in her mind she felt held back, as though by the wind, as though the elements intend she take a different route (…) Ahead, children poured in through the school gates, and down a slope towards the brown school building. She came up after them with the timidity of a ghost, and squeezed her hands tight together to check that she was real.”

Throughout it all, Esther’s vivid imagination and affability make her a delight to spend time with. Author Jayne Joso deposits us beneath her skin in a land of synaesthetic richness, where music swells with colours and flavours. “She could hear the instruments come into play as though she had bidden them to do so, and she chuckled, for actually they came all by themselves. (…) Streams of pink and lilac coiled like ribbons, yellow, then mandarin orange. She sensed the taste of sugared almonds. Then raspberries.”

While the grown ups she could have expected to depend on for safety (including her stepfather and teacher) become along the worst of her bullies, she finds solace in the company of strangers, including Pete, an old sailor living on a boat on the harbour who has a skill for perfectly peeling an orange.

Such a level of trust and intrigue is inevitably laced with peril, and Joso adeptly uses our own misgivings against us. As adults proffer warnings without explanation, threats hover on the edges of Esther’s adventures.

The cruelty that comes Esther’s way made me furious with the small-mindedness and ignorance of the grown ups in her life. At times Esther’s mistreatment makes the reading almost unbearable, but thanks to the lyricism of Joso’s writing and the indomitable character of Esther, this is far from misery fiction. A balance is finely wrought throughout to keep us fixed to the page, with Esther’s determination and ‘sunshine spirit’ evoking new pleasures even in the grimmest passages.

Esther is a dauntless, dazzling protagonist you can’t help but take to heart, trapped in circumstances that are far from extraordinary yet equipped with an innate passion for life that could teach us all a thing or two.

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