Published by Medina, RRP £9.95. Appropriate for ages 9-15
From the cover:
“On her 11th birthday in 2018, Alice finds a mysterious black box on the beach. She discovers it’s called a C-Bean and imagines it belongs to her. Together with her five schoolmates – the only children on the newly re-inhabited remote island of St. Kilda – they soon realise it has extraordinary powers and can transport them anywhere in the world. Before long, Alice and her friends find themselves immersed in all sorts of thrilling adventures, from Central Park to the Amazonian rainforest to the backstreets of Hong Kong, as they uncover danger and subterfuge threatening the worlds eco-sytems. With a stray dog and a garrulous parrot they seem to have acquired along the way, they overcome their fears as the C-Bean helps them unravel the mysteries of time and tides, understand the interconnectedness of all things and, in a race against the clock, succeed in safeguarding the future of their tiny Scottish island.
SeaBEAN, the debut from former architect and urban development consultant Sarah Holding, is a near-future environmental adventure set mainly on the (currently) uninhabited archipelago of St Kilda (warning: irritating auto-play sound FX lurk beyond the link).
I’ll be honest: when my copy of SeaBEAN arrived I was not filled with must-read excitement. I’m not particularly a science fiction fan and I tend to fear the worst when ever the word ‘environmental’ is bandied about, but we do not judge a book by the cover – even if it is thermochromic – and so in I dove.
And I’m glad I did.
Part third person narration and part epistolary, SeaBEAN is a real corker of a novel, suitable for reading aloud from the age of eight or nine and lone-reading from around ten. Written with an economy of language that belies its debut status, Holding captures the character of her 11-year-old protagonist and focalsing agent Alice beautifully and creates a compelling narrative on a complex topic without condescending to her young audience. She’s straightforward without being obvious, addressing important contemporary issues without being preachy. This is a rare talent indeed.
At the core of the primary plot is a machine called the C-Bean, a sort of internet-enabled matter transporter that is part classroom, part TARDIS, part iPad; a black box that can take the children inside it anywhere in the world. Alice and her friends visit New York, Australia, Hong Kong and the Amazonian rainforest, in each location learning a little more about the interconnectedness of things and the unconsidered consequences of our actions, even when we’re acting in good faith. Despite the brisk pace each landscape is superbly captured as Holding sketches an impression of each new location, before throwing her characters into it and seeing how they react.
As is often the case with tightly packed narratives, it’s difficult to discuss the book without giving too much of the game away, so I’ll try to stick to wider themes. The primary motif in SeaBEAN is, predictably, given the name of the book and of the futuristic portakabin at its heart, is the sea bean or drift seed, an organic flotsam in the form of plant seeds that travel many miles over the ocean as part of their not-becoming-extinct strategy that there’s probably a proper botanical word for. Just as the seed of a plant rooted in one continent can affect the environment of another, so can our actions and some of those actions can ben devastating.
Thanks in part to a prologue that suggests there’s more to C-Bean than meets the eye, I look forward to part two of the trilogy, SeaWAR, which sees the C-Bean turn time machine as well as matter transporter. SeaWAR is available from March 2014.
For its exciting adventure and accessible prose that will delight loves of Secret Seven and Famous Five books, SeaBEAN deserves a hearty 9 out of 10.
With thanks to Guy and Shelley at Medina Publishing for the review copy.