I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Sula’s Voyage by Catherine Torres
Release date: May 2016
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, fantasy
Source: The Author
Fifteen-year-old Sula has always known she is different. Even though her parents have shown her nothing but love and acceptance, she sees her dark skin as a reminder of how she doesn’t fit in with the rest of her family.
What’s worse is she also feels that her parents are hiding something from her. After getting expelled from school, Sula reluctantly goes to stay with her mother’s friends. There she unexpectedly finds herself on a journey of self-discovery — a journey that keeps drawing her to the sea. Sula must not only figure our her parents’ secret, but also just how different, and possibly magical, she really is.
I discovered this book while clicking around on Goodreads. I was bored and trying to make the minutes fly by so I could leave work. As soon as I saw the cover I was hooked. The bright, bold colours and the whimsical drawing of a girl sinking into an ocean full of sea creatures and plants stood out. I added it to my TBR and thought nothing more of it. Then I received an email from Catherine Torres, the author, who agreed to send me a copy as it is only available in Asia. Let’s just say I was very excited and even more so when it actually arrived in the mail a few weeks later.
Sula’s Voyage is a story about family, friendships and self-discovery. The book is about Sula, a teenager who has always felt like she never belonged. Sala was born out at sea; she has dark skin while her parents are fair skinned. This results in her being bullied by other children in school until she’s expelled. Without a purpose and essentially drifting, she attends her father’s university lectures where she meets James. Finally life for Sula appears perfect until her father accepts a research position in the Caribbean and her mother forces her to visit an old family friend. Away from home and James, Sula is forced to contemplate and question her purpose in life.
From the cover and the synopsis I was totally expecting something much different than what the story was actually about, but I’m not complaining at all! I fully believed that it would feature more magic or fantasy elements. Instead, magic is a very small element of the book. That said, the novel is magical in many other ways. The author’s writing style is straight to the point and very honest, which just sucks you in. After the first few chapters I was fully engrossed in Sula’s world. After just finishing a book I loved to pieces and setting aside another I disliked, Sula’s Voyage was just what I needed to cure a major book hangover.
A major reason why I adored this book was Sula. She was a likeable main character but not perfect in any sense of the word. Years of bullying have taken their toll on her. She’s unable to fully open up to others and is very self conscious. However, she’s also very inquisitive, strong and independent. She developed so much throughout the story and I couldn’t help but cheer her on, even though on that journey she sometimes made me very angry. I’m glad that her relationship with James wasn’t the main focus on the story. Instead, it was very much about Sula realizing truths about herself and not needing her love interest to help her along.
My only issue with the book was the hint of a love triangle, which struck me as completely unnecessary. It read as out of place and not fitting with the rest of what was going on. I won’t name the character (because spoilers are no fun), but a close friendship would have been more realistic. What I do want to point out was that this was such a small element of the book. So, while I didn’t like it, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel, hence the five heart rating.
Prior to reading the book, I knew very little about the Philippines. Reading Sula’s Voyage set me on my own journey into Filipino culture and tradition. I loved learning about this beautiful country and the people who inhabit it. A lot of new information and vocabulary was used throughout the story, but thankfully readers are aided by a helpful glossary at the back of the book. However, I didn’t discover it until I was done reading (I never, ever flip to the back of the book because I don’t want to spoil the story). Then again, it wasn’t needed because the author explains new words without slowing down the story or making the conversations read as awkward. Also, part of being immersed in a new culture is the food and food is a much discussed topic in the story! All of the descriptions made my mouth water. It all sounded delicious! I’m so disappointed that I can’t find a Filipino restaurant where I live.
I now completely understand why this book was an Asian Book Award finalist and look forward to reading the author’s other novel, Mariposa Gang and Other Stories. I loved the blend of real world issues and magic. If you do come across Sula’s Voyage be sure to pick it up! ❤