Beyond That, the Sea: A Novel
It is 1963, and Beatrix Thompson is reminiscing about the past few decades of her life, particularly when she spent time in America. Back in the 1940s, as World War II started to rage in Europe, Beatrix, aka Bea, aka Trixie, is living with her mum and dad in London.
When she is 11, her father Reginald decides to send his only child to America, where she would be safe from the horrors of combat. Millie, her mum, doesn’t want this, yet insists she accompany her daughter. Reginald will not allow Millie to go, so Beatrix blames her mum, believing she no longer wants her.
Beatrix’s journey via ocean liner is long and tedious, though she finds it bearable being in the presence of other young girls. Amid seasickness and the sounds of other children crying, Beatrix spends most nights on the deck where it’s cold, and the air is clean and fresh. She sits alone with her thoughts, pondering if they’ll ever arrive in America and what it will be like.
Disembarking in Boston two weeks later, Beatrix is wearing her favorite dress, hoping to make a positive impression. At the same time, she waits for the Gregory family to take her to their home. Soon, a tall boy with curly hair approaches her, and she surmises this is William. Millie has shown her a letter describing all of them: William, age 13; Gerald, age nine; and their parents, Nancy and Ethan Gregory.
Nancy is happy to have another female in residence, and while Bea settles in, Nancy is shocked by Beatrix’s pale skin, dirty white socks tucked in heavy boots and her black and soulful eyes. Nancy thinks:
“What on earth had they signed on for? What must that be like for her? To be sent away from home by yourself? Nancy wonders what kind of a parent could make this choice, although she knows she has no idea what it’s like to live through a war. She doesn’t think she could do it though; she can’t imagine putting William or Gerald on a ship by himself. And, Lord, what will happen if the United States enters this war. She prays each night that it won’t happen or, if it does, that her boys will still be too young.”
The children bond almost at once. Gerald likes having Bea around, and she soon feels like a family member. Though Gerald loves his older brother, William somewhat tolerates him, whereas Beatrix—Bea, as they call her now—listens to him and plays games with him.
In school, the popular girls huddle around Bea, loving her accent while asking questions about the war. Bea’s always wanted to be in this kind of circle, but she is quiet and shy, and she soon realizes this is not the group for her.
In London, Reginald joins the Home Guard, deciding he needs to be more involved in the war effort. Never home, either working or on post with comrades, Millie is left alone and despondent. She is comforted knowing Beatrix is safe, well-protected, and doing well in school. What is most important, her daughter is safe and with people who care for her. She lives for letters she receives from Bea and Nancy.
As an only child, Bea finds it exciting to have siblings, and she enjoys being with the Gregorys. Nancy treats her like a daughter, and she fits in with the family. During the summer, they head to their home in Maine on their own island. Here they spend their time fishing, swimming, rowing the boat back and forth to the mainland, and living a carefree life as children should. Thoughts of war are far away, and Bea is thriving.
Gerald follows Bea like a puppy dog, yet William catches Bea’s fancy. With much in common and thinking alike, their friendship becomes closer as the years pass and they grow toward adulthood. Good things must end, and after six years and the war is over, Bea is sent home. Will she ever see the Gregorys, or William, again?
Reginald dies from a heart attack when Bea is in the States, and she is grieving his loss. She and Millie clash often, yet life goes on, and Bea, now called Trixie in London, gets on with her life. With sorrow, she returns to London and to her mum. She may be back “home,” but her heart is “across the pond,” so she keeps corresponding with Nancy.
Bea accepts life in London and is teaching school when one day, she receives a phone call from Nancy telling her Ethan succumbed to a coronary, and this is like losing her dad all over again. She gets a knock on the door and is surprised to see it is William, who states he’s been in Europe and wanted to visit her. They talk about America, and William imparts some news upsetting Bea, yet their time together is magic. Bea will always consider William her first love. Bea travels between London and America, finding out life never turns out the way one hopes.
This intense coming-of-age novel includes well-told history and dealing with the joys and pain in life. Imagine being sent to a foreign country as a child, knowing it’s for your protection, yet feeling abandoned. Emotions play a big part in all the characters, who are so brilliantly portrayed so readers can imagine their happiness and sorrows.