Riding the Tide: Sarah Henning Shares Her Top YA Picks for the High Seas

Posted by Marie on July 17, 2018
Sarah Henning is the journalist-turned-debut author of Sea Witch, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Having lived and worked through five hurricanes in South Florida, she has a profound respect for the ocean. Here, Henning shares a list of her top seafaring YA books as well as her take on what makes the ocean such an alluring muse.



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I didn’t see the ocean until I was 14. A native Kansan, I was much more familiar with those amber waves of grain than the watery kind. And when I finally saw it, I was in a massive airplane, gliding over the Pacific, headed for Australia. For hours upon hours, the clouds held us, pressed between the familiar blue of the sky above and a big, glistening expanse below that seemed just as endless.

Ten years after that first glimpse of the glimmering deep, the sea became a part of my everyday life. I’d moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, and I couldn’t leave my house without catching a whiff of brine, couldn’t go on a run without the energy of the waves pulling me across the bridge to jog along Ocean Boulevard, couldn’t go more than a day without making it a point to hear the sound of the Atlantic lapping against Palm Beach.

The power and beauty of the ocean shaped my time in South Florida with its intoxicating magic and ancient rhythms. It’s the type of energy that seeps into your bones. And when she was in a mood, I felt that, too—her fury during the five hurricanes I experienced was unforgettable. I rode them out and then emerged, each time amazed at how calm the water could look—blue, normal, cheerful—in the days after, while building entrails dangled from high-rises, windows blown, roofs peeled wide open to the unforgiving sun.

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And though it’s been years since I had the ocean in all her incarnations at my fingertips, it still calls to me. Maybe it always will.

Sea Witch gives the Wicked treatment to Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic eight-legged sorceress. In writing it, I very much treated the water as if it were a character itself, not just a piece of the world. My sea is at once wicked, fickle, generous, beautiful, and unforgiving, not unlike the real thing. She dictates the livelihood of every character in the book, and she can just as soon save a life as end it.

And my debut has some very good company on Young Adult shelves. In the past few years, we’ve seen several beautiful stories set on the waves, including at least four recent debuts and their follow-ups: Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time; Sarah Tolcser’s Song of the Current and Whisper of the Tide; Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen; and Nicole Castroman’s Blackhearts and Blacksouls.

Maybe this should be no surprise—almost three-quarters of the world is water. It dominates our planet in a way that land cannot. The life under the waves outnumbers those above the shoreline, too. The ocean never rests. It’s always in motion. It’s always there, a living, breathing, powerful thing. But it is also mysterious—though the sea is so big, so known, there is so much we cannot see and depths to which we still have not been.

Something so dynamic is an attractive muse. Even better, the ocean is synonymous with adventure—perfect for those of us who daydream for a living, a new experience for our characters and our stories just a ship and all its perils away.

Below are just a few of new and upcoming reads that also ride the tide in unforgettable ways. I hope you enjoy the many faces of the sea in every one of them.



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Mad Max: Fury Road meets badass future-world female pirates fighting a warlord on the seas they call home.


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A dark take on The Little Mermaid, with two murderous main characters and a slow-burn romance.


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An origin story for DC’s Mera and Aquaman that explores a rift between duty and love.


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Pirates, heretics, magic, and an island full of political intrigue.


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Islands, lost princes, maps, and the cruel mysteries of a long-ago tragedy.


Sea Witch will be available on July 31. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf!



Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Mermaids/pirates/sea-themed do seem to be on the upswing at the moment. These are good picks


message 2: by Christina (new)

Christina Did you know that the link at the bottom for "Sea Witch" takes you to Saba Tahir's "Reaper at the Gates"?


message 3: by Kelsey (new)

Kelsey Thank you for this post, it was like it was tailored to me, I added all of them to my list!


message 4: by Dana Al-Basha (new)

Dana Al-Basha دانة الباشا I LOVE the sea/ocean and anything related to water...


message 5: by Carly (new)

Carly Very excited for this one! Another favourite of mine set on the see is Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) Into the Drowning Deep... so good!


NerdyBookishBeauty Awesome recommendations!


message 8: by Louie (new)

Louie No "Ocean at the End of the Lane"? One of Gaiman's best...


message 9: by Celaena (new)

Celaena InformationSuperhero wrote: "Bombastic:
Monstrous Beauty009173]
The Brides of Rollrock Island
Drift & Dagger
Salt & Storm

To read:
[book:Seven Tears at High Tide..."


Ooooh! I can't wait to try these!


message 10: by Heather (new)

Heather Such an amazing cover:))
I've been excited about Ms. Henning's SEA WITCH for it seems, hhhmmm...FOREVER!!!!!
Can't wait to get my copy and dive in :D


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