It’s World Oceans Day, and to celebrate, author Luanne Rice stopped by OOM to talk about her connection to the sea and answer our questions about her newest YA novel, The Beautiful Lost. Her latest is a sweeping story of a girl and boy, both troubled in different ways, who take off on a whirlwind road trip up the East Coast. Check out the chat below to learn more!
How did your connection to the ocean start?
I was very lucky to grow up spending every summer at my grandmother’s house at the beach. School would get out in June, we’d pack our bathing suits and Scottie dog into the station wagon, kick off our shoes, and basically not put them on again until September. My sisters and I spent every day on Long Island Sound. I was inspired by sunlight and moonlight on the water, whitecaps, constant wave action. My first published story, when I was fifteen, was about an adventure with my cousin at the beach.
I spent most days playing in tidal pools, learning to identify species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, starfish, jellyfish, and barnacles. It was so mesmerizing, hours could go by. I observed how tides and currents brought energy and nutrients into the pools, how different kinds of seaweed could be used as camouflage and habitat for hermit crabs, periwinkles, cunners, molting lobsters, and other creatures. Those days taught me so much about the ecosystem and made me want to know more about the ocean environment.
My friends and I bonded over love of the sea. We’d swim out to the big rock and around the point, go on marathon expeditions with a flotilla of rowboats, and hike through the woods to a secret beach and wait until after dark to take night swims and watch for shooting stars.
For my eighth-grade science project, I used the family Super 8 movie camera to make a short film about local water pollution, At fifteen, my summer job was helping my father pull lobster pots, and at nineteen, I went to study humpback whales aboard R/V WESTWARD, a hundred-foot staysail schooner, run by the Sea Education Association of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. One of the great joys of my life was being surrounded by oceanographers at the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Biological Lab, studying through the night in the MBL library, with the boats in Eel Pond just outside the window, the music of halyards clanking in the wind.
What is The Beautiful Lost about and what role does the Atlantic Ocean play in story?
The Beautiful Lost is about a girl named Maia, who goes on a road trip up the East Coast in search of her mother. Maia’s mother left the family for her career as a whale researcher in a part of Canada so remote, it’s off the map. Her mother’s leaving triggered severe depression and sent Maia to a psychiatric hospital. Maia struggles with continued treatment, the unwanted effects of medication, feeling different at school, and the constant pain of missing her mom. A shining light in her life, literally, is the glowing window of a group home on a distant hill, where a boy named Billy lives. Maia has a secret crush on him. When she decides to take off to find her mother, she drives up to the home for one last goodbye, and Billy shocks her by jumping into the car and telling her he’s running away with her.
Billy plots a route for them through coastal New England. The first stop is Mystic Seaport, where Maia finds a very old, valuable book that contains the information Maia will need to find her mom. Billy and Maia stop in Atlantic fishing villages, libraries by the sea, and a lighthouse on the easternmost tip of Maine. By the time they reach Maia’s mother’s research station on the St. Lawrence Seaway, they’ve worked in a crab processing plant, traveled on ferries and a fishing boat, and seen countless beluga and humpback whales.
The ocean brings Maia and Billy close together. It also pulls Maia to her mother. Along the road trip, Maia feels the power of the ocean and discovers a life force and strength within her she hadn’t known was there.
Would you say the ocean inspires all your writing in some way?
We are made up of salt water—tears and blood. Nothing in life—other than love and my relationship with my sisters—has inspired me more than the ocean. It has found its way its way into almost all my books. I’ve written my novels on the edge of various coasts: overlooking the Pacific from a bougainvillea-covered bungalow in Malibu; watching a fleet of vintage 12-Metre sailing yachts crisscross the harbor in a graceful maritime ballet from my desk in a borrowed stone carriage house in Newport, Rhode Island; nestled into a bed-and-breakfast above the Celtic Sea in Cork, Ireland; at the Wonderview Cottages by the seal-filled bay in Belfast, Maine; and, especially, at the old oak table in my grandmother’s beach cottage in Connecticut—the place I’ve come every summer of my life, and am now lucky enough to own.
How can readers help the world’s oceans?
Spend time by the water, learn about everything you can, fall in love with it. Tide pools can teach you so much. They can be very small; one of my favorites is an approximate two-by-three-feet cut in the rock ledge jutting into the cove, and it contains so much sea life. I encourage you to try it—just stare at the smallest area and be amazed by what you see. The great thing about the intertidal zone is that it doesn’t reveal everything all at once. You think you’ve seen all the mussels, whelks, starfish, and minnows there are to see, and suddenly a wave ruffles the chondrus crispus seaweed bed, and a rock crab will scuttle forth. Am I an ocean nerd? Obviously. But try it, you’ll love it.
Another way to help is to reconsider balloons—they look pretty and festive going up into the sky, but when they fall into rivers they are borne to the ocean where creatures from sea turtles to whales mistake them for jellyfish or other food, ingest them, and die. The same is true of all plastics—bags, utensils, anything that might find its way to the sea and into the food chain.
My bookshelves are full of volumes about ocean science and conservation, some classics, others new. I love novels with seaside settings. Any book—fiction or non-fiction— inspired by the sea can instill or encourage a love of the ocean, a protective feeling for the environment, and that can only help.
- The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
- Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
- Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda J. Lear
- The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina
- The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia A. Earle
- Grayson by Lynne Cox
- How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley
Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:
- Sea Change by Aimee Friedman
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
- Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
- Rockall by Amelia Onorato (a graphic novel by my niece—full disclosure!)
- Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken
- Wish by Joseph Monninger
- Flush by Carl Hiassen
And here are some websites to check out:
- Sea Education Association
- National Geographic Ocean Education
- Surfrider Foundation
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- The Whale Route ( a website about the area of Quebec where part of The Beautiful Lost takes place~)