The Sea Is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt is profound and tragic, but also heartfelt and absorbing
There were many things that caught my attention about The Sea is Salt and So Am I. The beautifully ominous title. The artsy cover with brushstrokes forming the curl of an angry wave that is about to crash over homes. The gist of the blurb: a small beach town, a devastating storm, one girl determined to save it. Tested loyalties, new romances, painful secrets… Sounds right up my alley!
I had absolutely no idea the hurricane of emotions I had just signed up for
Before I go into any more detail, I will say this: my heart hurts because it ended. This story captivated my attention and refused to let me go. I miss the three main characters, Harlow, Ellis, and Tommy intensely. I NEEDED MORE TIME WITH THEM! (Hint hint to anyone who can make this happen, this book needs a TV series deal.)
The Sea is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt is a beautifully melancholic story of healing from wounds that cut deep and refuse to heal.
Harlow and Ellis are best friends. They have built their whole lives and future around each other. Tommy and Ellis are twins, but Tommy has never been allowed into that exclusive circle of two, not even marginally. In fact, Ellis and Harlow’s relationship has caused a wedge and irreparable disconnect between the brothers.
Even more, Tommy and Harlow have been mortal enemies for most of the time they have been in each other’s life. Harlow regularly goes out of her way to be cruel to Tommy (and Ellis allows it), even when knowing Tommy’s struggles with mental health. In the background of these stories is their small coastal hometown and family diner, which are one storm away from being swallowed by the sea.
Content warnings and mild spoilers
Tommy tries to take his own life and this is the catalyst for the shake-up in each of these characters’ lives.
The story deep dives into the ripple effects of this incident on all three main characters as told from their multiple points of view. Each one of the teens telling their side of the story and the events that led to the unraveling. Hartt does a beautiful job building this multiple-voice narrative without making us feel like any detail is repetitive. Each element builds up to the bigger story—the devastating storm, actual and emotional, that is approaching. She slowly and painfully peeled back the layers of our main characters and with each layer she presented, I loved them more.
Harlow is determined and stubborn. She sets goals and will fight for them at any cost. Saving the diner, making sure Ellis stays on track with their life plan, fixing Tommy… There is nothing she won’t do to keep everybody on track with her desires. Ellis is arrogant and undependable, frequently described as being obsessed with himself. He partially lost his leg in an accident when he was younger, but that doesn’t stop him from being a star runner for his school. Finally, we have Tommy, my favorite, the artist, our underdog. He is clinically depressed and lonely. Dismissed by his brother and bullied by Harlow, Tommy is desperate to find a place in the world where he can fit in. They are all angry, spiteful, and many times unlikeable. They are in toxic and codependent relationships and are headed for shipwreck.
And so we have a story of three teens that are worlds apart but desperately trying to pull each other closer together.
In The Sea Is Salt and So Am I, Hartt’s writing is thoughtful, descriptive, and raw. Even though this book made my heart ache (which, to be clear, is a feeling I’m 100% on board with and actually seek out when reading), I often found myself chuckling at the characters’ dialogues and clap backs. There are more than a few gems in there that will stay with me.
The book’s narrative structure is elaborate and nuanced. At first, I found it hard to follow and struggled with its intensity—there are many plot points that feed Harlow, Ellis, and Tommy’s journey and so much to unpack! But I also couldn’t put it down. I yearned to go back to them every time. Each one of their stories was messy, honest, and insightful. Harlow, Ellis, and Tommy might at times be unlikeable like I mentioned before, but they are all fighters, desperately seeking love, understanding, compassion, and trying to claim a space in their world and each other’s world. How can you not love that?