I received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I am always looking for middle grade books to read with my nine-year-old daughter, and we both agreed that Beautiful Blue World sounded interesting. This is the first book in a new series by Suzanne LaFleur.
Mathilde is a twelve-year-old girl who lives in Lykellig, a city in Sofarende with her family. She has a best friend named Megs, and she goes to school every day. Their lives have changed drastically in recent months; their country has been fighting a war against Tyssia, a neighboring country. There are air raids at night, and food is sometimes scarce.
Mathilde and Megs receive paperwork at school regarding an upcoming examination. The army is looking for children, and are willing to pay generously. No one is sure what the children will be doing for the war effort, but Mathilde knows the money will help her family.
Mathilde does not think that she did very well on the examination, and is surprised to find out that she has been selected. She leaves her family and Megs behind, and travels far away to a new place. I am being intentionally vague to avoid giving spoilers, but I think that I can reveal that Mathilde sees the contributions that the other children are making in the fight against Tyssia. These new friends have unique skills, and Mathilde wonders why she was selected if that was the criteria that the examiners were looking for. Over the course of the story, Mathilde gains an appreciation for her own skillset.
Beautiful Blue World is not a very long book, but it is a powerful examination of war, as seen through the eyes of a child. It was an interesting decision to place Mathilde in a fictional country; this allows the reader to focus on the nature of war rather than specific events being depicted. That said, the scenes with the children at work were based, in part, on a real life event/place; I thought of it as I was reading, and I was pleasantly surprised to see LaFleur mention it in her acknowledgements. So that part was cool too- child geniuses at work.
I read part of this book out loud with my nine-year-old daughter, and then we read it separately. As I prepare to post my review, she is not quite finished, but it has held her attention. She says that it is a serious book, and that she thinks that older kids and adults would like it. She says that other fourth graders might not like it because it is scary. She liked the scenes at the school with the “smart kids”.
I would recommend Beautiful Blue World to older middle grade readers, and to YA readers as well. This is an interesting mashup of genres. The setting is vaguely European, but the names sound like they come from a fantasy world. It’s not quite dystopian, but seeds were planted. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Mathilde next- this was a great book!