Girls of the Year 2016: Lea Dives In

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Ten-year-old Lea Clark is excited to see her big brother again. Despite the eleven-year age difference, she and Zac have always been close. For the last year, he's been studying in Brazil (where their great-grandfather was born and raised) and now Lea and her parents are going to see him. It's not just Lea's first time out of the country, it's the first time she's been out of Missouri! She's excited to see and experience new things, armed with her camera and a compass necklace given to her by her recently-deceased grandmother Ama, who loved traveling.

While Brazil is amazing and Lea's thrilled to see Zac, the trip starts with some disappointments. Zac, who left for college three years ago and has been in Brazil for several months, doesn't seem to remember that while he's growing up, Lea is too. She's matured since they lived under the same roof (I've seen this blind spot manifest first hand with my brothers, who are ten years apart--when you don't see an eight-year-old age day-to-day, it can be hard to remember after a while that he's not a little kid anymore). And her first visit to the ocean brings back memories of nearly drowning in a lake four years ago. Lea tries to shake the fear, but after a second beach trip, resolves to hide behind her camera instead of swimming.

But it's hard when Zac treats her like she's still the same age she was when he left for college, and seems bored hanging out with her. Trying to enjoy her trip and inspired by Ama's travel journals, Lea starts a travel blog. Her underwater camera will net her great pictures, and her family is invited to watch some sea turtles hatch! Meeting a new friend, Camila, helps shake Lea's dark mood, too. Camila is very friendly and outgoing, and understanding. She even finds a quiet place for Lea to practice snorkeling with Camila's cousin, Paloma--who Zac finds quite enchanting. With Paloma's help, Lea is able to overcome her fear of the ocean.

Lea ends up helping Camila with her fear of heights: the day before they go to the rain forest, Lea, Zac, and their dad go hiking. They end up lost, and then their dad falls partway down a cliff and breaks his leg. Using the pictures Lea's been taking with her camera and the compass necklace Ama gave her, Lea and Zac get back to their hotel and take Camila and a rescue team to their dad. After he's safe, Lea and Zac talk, and get their relationship repaired, with Zac seeing that Lea isn't a little kid anymore. In fact, when Lea's parents decide going the rain forest isn't possible with her dad's cast (I can't imagine the humidity and hiking would help anything), Zac convinces them that Lea's old enough to go with just him.

Before leaving the coast, Lea spends a few last moments with Camila, who will be visiting her cousins in Chicago soon--maybe they can meet up. 

Glossary of Portuguese Words

This book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a little Portuguese-English dictionary.


Dedicated to Jodi, Dan, and Sara.

Zac's childhood nickname for Lea is Cricket, which she realizes she's outgrown during the book.

I have to agree with Lea's initial dislike of salt water. I far prefer swimming in lakes to oceans, in part because of fresh water is nicer to swim in (also because I get paranoid about my kids and rip tides).

Lea's grandmother left her several travel journals, which Lea reads throughout her books.

Lea's parents are both into history: her mom is an architect who restores historic buildings, and her dad is a history professor at Washington University (which is in Missouri, not Washington; we have the University of Washington, Washington State University, Central Washington University, Western Washington University, and Eastern Washington University).

Alligators don't live in South America. The two extant species live in the US and in China. South American has caimans and crocodiles (the latter only in far northern part, not in Brazil).

Camila says she has a fear of heights. I hope that in the third book, when she visits Lea in St. Louis, she fully conquers the fear with a trip up the Gateway Arch, or is able to enjoy it after the experience on the cliff--it's 630 feet tall. I got a nosebleed visiting it and jokingly blamed it on the elevation.

I once saw a friend's dad introduce himself the way Zac introduces himself: "I'm [friend's] brother. I mean son. I mean dad."

Not only do many newly-hatched sea turtles fall prey to various predators, a lot drown as they reach the ocean.

Zac gives Lea a wish bracelet, and her three wishes are to be able to swim in the ocean without fear. Camila tells her the orange of the bracelet represents courage. Lea snorkels before it falls off (which is when the wishes are supposed to be granted). It falls off some time during her dad's rescue.

At the very end of the book, Lea gives her compass necklace to the villagers collecting offerings for Yemanjá, a sea goddess. The offering is given February 2, giving a concrete date for the events of the book. (They spend a week at the beach) I can't tell if that's the right time of year for sea turtles to hatch.

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