Title: Sea
Author: Heidi R. Kling
ISBN: 9780399251634
Pages: 323 pages
Publisher/Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2010.

Dad cleared his throat again. “We’d like Sienna to join us for about two weeks at an Indonesian orphanage, a pesantren.” He turned back to me. “We think you could really help us with the kids who survived the tsunami, honey. Many of them suffer nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and our goal, well, one of our goals, is to restructure the dormitories into a family-style system, with an older girl acting as a ‘mother’ or ‘big sister’ figure for the younger trauma survivors to improve their well-being. . . .”
His words spun into gibberish. […]
“You should have talked to me about this first,” Oma said, slicing through the silence. “Isn’t there a war still raging in Aceh? Never mind the whole place is a disaster zone full of disease. How long have you been planning this?” Oma’s usually calm face flushed, her eyes angrier than I’d ever seen them. “You know how afraid she is of flying. I’m shocked you would do this. Especially after the way Hope was killed.”
Mom. (9-10)

Sienna Jones lost her mom three years ago in a plane accident over the Indian Ocean, and has suffered from nightmares and fears of the ocean and planes ever since. So when her father surprises her with a plane ticket to Indonesia to assist her doctor father with relief efforts after the tsunami, she’s less than excited. Especially when she learns that her former therapist — emphasis on former — Vera is taking what used to be Sienna’s mom’s spot in the group. But after learning about the conditions that the orphaned children are facing, Sienna agrees. She’s in for more than culture shock after meeting Deni, a young man who serves as mentor to the younger boys. Sienna sympathizes with Deni, who is discontent with the way the orphanage is being run. When he hears word that someone might be looking for him back home, Sienna knows all to well the hope he feels and sets out to help him, even if it means disobeying her father and conquering her own fears.

I was surprised by how much I liked this story. I was expecting another boy-and-girl-meet-and-there’s-instant-mutual-attraction love story. (seriously, how many instant love stories are there in teen fiction right now? Has anyone done a headcount recently? There’s a LOT!). And you sort of get that in the beginning:
“I couldn’t stop staring at the tallest boy, the one pounding his drum like he was out for vengeance. I didn’t know how he did it, but his music throttled its way through me, straight to my core. He glanced up. Once. Caught me staring. His eyes electric, but steady. I still didn’t break his gaze. Instead I sucked in a breath. Blinked. Took in the sight of him. The sweat trickling down his temple, his square-boned jaw, his rippling arm muscles as he beat the crap out of that drum.” (70)

But readers, and even Sienna, know to some extent that this would never work out. Deni is literally worlds away from Sienna. Sienna is trying to rationalize this relationship because they find comfort in their mutual disasters and need for hope. With Sienna’s dad as a psychiatrist, readers are privy to that sort of psychological rational and reaction. Yet we still feel for the two teens, and no matter how hard you try to not admit it, you’re hoping that something happens that will solve their problems. There’s passion, and not the physical kind.

Then Heidi Kling throws in one major curve ball at the end. Like, you’re reading along, thinking okay, another cliché ending, and then …. wait, WHAT!? Did that really just… yes, yes it did. And I honestly don’t think it could have ended any differently. It made perfect sense, at least to me, that Kling ended it that way. It’s still a happy ending, but it’s more real, more engaging, and tugs at your heart-strings. And I don’t think readers will be disappointed.