Nothing has been the same for Hazel or her family since Mum drowned in a kayaking accident. Hazel sees danger everywhere and never leaves the house without her blue “Safety Pack.” Her little sister, Peach, knows and feels much more than she lets on. And Hazel’s surviving parent, Mama, doesn’t laugh or smile as much anymore. Worst of all, Mama has spent the past two years moving them all from one state to another, even though Hazel desperately wants to go home to California.
When they land in Rose Harbor, Maine, for the summer, Mama reconnects with an old friend from her childhood whose daughter, Lemon, is intent on befriending Hazel (whether Hazel wants to be friends or not). Suddenly it seems that Mama might have entirely different plans for their family than Hazel realized.
Author Ashley Herring Blake’s first middle grade novel, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, received a Stonewall Honor in 2019. Her third, Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea, is a masterful depiction of what it’s like to experience a deep loss as a child and the sometimes unexpected ways that grief can manifest in young people. Blake doesn’t hesitate to vividly describe the pain that Hazel feels but also fills the girl’s story with plenty of light and comfort, whether it’s the beauty of the sea or a growing connection with someone who understands how she feels. Blake often includes LGBTQ+ characters in both her middle grade and YA novels, and she incorporates a character’s nonbinary identity with the perfect balance of straightforwardness and sensitivity.
Blake’s gorgeous prose will stir deep emotions within readers, and her descriptions of the seaside setting are full of lovely sensory details. It’s heartwarming to watch Hazel heal with help from the sea, reawakening to her dream of becoming a marine biologist. This story of a girl navigating the choppy waters of grief toward a brighter shore is heart-rending but full of hope.