It’s 1940, and Millie and Reginald Thompson face a difficult decision: How can they best protect their 11-year-old daughter from the trauma of World War II? Reginald’s own youth was marred by the worries of World War I, and he’ll do anything to protect his daughter’s childhood. He convinces Millie to send Beatrix to live with a family in the United States, far from the bombs that threaten the Thompsons’ London neighborhood. They’ll see her again after the war.
Beatrix arrives in Boston as a reserved preteen, but the Gregory family soon draws her out. She fits like a stair step between the family’s eldest son, William, and the younger, Gerald. During the five years she spends in New England, Bea gains confidence as she competes with the boys and finds support from parents Nancy and Ethan, who ensure that Bea has a safe place to call home. Bea is thriving in her new world, even if she doesn’t quite understand her own parents’ decision to send her away. But then, as the war winds down, Millie abruptly calls Bea back to England, and upon Bea’s return, both families struggle to understand their relationships to one another, formed in the crucible of war.
Told from alternating perspectives of each family member over the course of nearly four decades, Beyond That, the Sea explores the ways that formative experiences remain with us throughout our lives. Several years after the war, Bea describes to William how it felt to return to her home country: “It was familiar, too, it was in my bones. As though this place is part of who I am. As though I was always meant to be here. As though I belong.” As Bea learns, the people we love remain with us, even after we lose touch. The Gregory family becomes a part of her, just as she carried her parents in her heart after leaving England.
Debut novelist Laura Spence-Ash’s masterful character development enlivens the Thompson and Gregory families and all of the love and tension between them.