Cover Image: When Secrets Set Sail

When Secrets Set Sail

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Member Reviews

When two girls lives are thrown together when Usha’s family adopts Imtiaz, they are both convinced they will never be friends let alone sisters. Fiery Imtiaz clashes with the quiet and solemn Usha, who is desperately grieving the loss of her beloved grandma. But the girls are forced to put their dislike of each other aside when their family home is threatened. A surprise visitor sends a message that they must right a wrong from the past and reveal the hidden secrets long buried to save their home. This is an intriguing and fascinating read which shines a spotlight on a past that has ramifications still today. It looks at the way the Ayahs –  who were brought from India to be nannies –  were treated shamefully. I like how this was explored by the girls delving through history and putting together the pieces of this mystery and gradually revealing the truth that had been hidden away in their home. A beautiful and timely tale of family, friendship and loss that completely surprised and delighted me .
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Have you hear of the ayahs that travelled to the UK from India to look after children? Do you know their story? I didn't, and neither did Usha and Immy until ghosts turned up in their home, insisting that their story be told.

Along the way, Usha and Immy find friendship and family, a true sense of belonging and fascinating details of a story that affects the present and the future, as well as the past. They learn how secrets can change everything and, while learning their own history, they learn the value of honesty, kindness and being themselves.

This is perfect for lovers of adventure, reality and history. If you enjoy books by Onjali Rauf and Lisa Thompson, you should definitely read this.
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Loved this book, A book about family and finding out the truth of the past. A book about family and ghosts intrigued me from the start and it definitely did not disappoint. Having to adjust after a family death and then having someone new move in was never going to be easy for Usha but this was a story about working together to overcome issues and figuring out the secrets that Lucky, a ghost who appears to Imtiaz, holds and how they can bring her peace when their ancestors have failed. There was also issues of racism brought in and shows how it is still here in the present day which i think was written about really well.. 

This was such an easy story to read and i loved writing style. I hadn't heard of this author before this book but i will definitely check out her other works.
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I was so excited to receive a copy of this book to review; it was a perfect book to read for South Asian Heritage Month, as it delves into a history that many of us know nothing about. 

Imtiaz has been adopted by the Joseph family, who live in an interesting house consisting of a community hub for refugees on the ground floor called the Hearth, and a whimsical home on the 'Top Deck', designed like a ship. She isn’t sure what to make of her new sister, Usha, who seems distracted and withdrawn after the death of her grandmother, Kali Ma. But when their Hearth and home are threatened by locals who don’t want refugees in the area, the two girls are drawn into a journey to uncover the hidden history of the house - and of the ayahs of long ago who once took refuge there.

In this middle-grade historical mystery with a sprinkling of the supernatural, Sita Brahmachari takes you on a wonderful odyssey of secrets, unravelling mysteries of the past and bringing forgotten histories to light. Before I read this book I had no idea that ayahs – Indian nannies employed to look after British children - were often abandoned by the families of their charges, once they reached Britain. Learning about them through this book even inspired me to go and do some more research of my own, so I was extremely thankful for the list of excellent sources included at the end.

It’s a story of grief, loss, and searching for a place to belong. I particularly loved the subtle way Brahmachari links xenophobic attitudes towards different groups of people, referring to historic attitudes towards Indians and Romany people, and the recent policies towards the Windrush generation and asylum seekers.
I found the beginning of the book a little confusing in trying to keep track of everyone’s relationships to each other, but soon found myself immersed in the girls’ quest to find out the truth. It was lovely to see Usha and Imtiaz’s relationship develop from tension and ambivalence to understanding and friendship. And wonderful to see multicultural/multi-ethnic families portrayed in children’s books as an everyday fact.

I found it striking that although the girls give the ayahs a voice we never actually hear any of them speak. Kali Ma’s ghost is always chattering which makes her seem larger than life, but Lucky and the other ayahs never utter a word, making them seem a step removed and somehow more ghostly. I understand this may have been reflective of how they are effectively silent in historical records and to allow the space for Imtiaz and Usha to discover their stories – but I would have liked to have heard Lucky find her own voice and tell at least part of her own story directly.

The story builds up to a compelling climax and a satisfying resolution, with a complex mystery at its heart. The descriptions of the ship-house are delightful and the various visual motifs running through the narrative help to draw the different threads together. This is a beautifully-conceived tale, steeped in history and emotion, and a fantastic resource for a decolonised curriculum.

Suitable for age 9+.

Thanks to @netgalley for this free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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When Secrets Set Sail is a wonderful story of friendship, sisterhood, and finding where you belong. Brahmachari blends magic and reality to bring the past into the present. 

Ghosts and secrets collide when Immy is adopted by Usha's family. Both girls struggle to adjust to the new dynamic, and they're not helped by the presence of ghosts, long neglected bargains, and the threat of the closure of the community space they live above. If they are going to save their home and help their ghosts to move on, they will first have to learn to work together and trust each other. 

When Secrets Set Sail is beautifully written and filled with history, community and family. Immy and Usha's relationship is at the very heart of the novel and it was lovely to see them grow closer and accept each other. I especially loved their moments on the tandem bike! 

I really enjoyed this novel's exploration of history, particularly overlooked stories. I learnt a lot about a group of people I didn't previously know anything about and I will keep their stories with me long after the novel's final page. This story stresses the importance of passing stories down, to keep the past alive. 

Community, both its history and the way it brings us together and supports us, is another important theme within the novel. Immy and Usha learn a lot about how the way they live affects others. They discover the importance of honouring promises, and the way it can conflict with our own wants and desires. 

But, above all, When Secrets Set Sail is an uplifting story which will leave readers smiling, their hearts full. 

I was provided with an early copy of this novel to review on NetGalley.
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Imtiaz has known Delyse all her life, but now Delyse is leaving with Merve for the Caribbean and Immy is being adopted by Usha’s family;  only child Usha has just lost her beloved Grandma Kali-Ma and is anxious about having to welcome a sister.  Although they are the same age, they are nothing alike in temperament, and their initial meetings are fraught with misunderstandings.  Added to that, Usha’s parents may be forced to sell the house to continue their community work, if important documents cannot be found.  
In addition to this stressful situation, each of the girls can see a spirit, and initially is unwilling to tell the other.  When they eventually share the information, they begin to work together to uncover the secrets of Kali-Ma’s Esimorp book and the mysterious appearance of the spirits.
This lovely book combines the elements of an enthralling mystery, a race against time and a poignant piece of history of which I was totally unaware.  It is also a tender and heart-warming story of dealing with loss, building trust and growing up.  A beautifully written, thoroughly good read.
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This was a very unusual but enjoyable story. I would recommend it for year 6 and above, as the story was a little complicated in places, although it all tied together really well. Set in London, Imtiaz is adopted by a family that run a refugee community centre, and is going to live in a beautifully described top floor room decorated as a ship. However, her new sister is struggling to accept her, made worse by the fact that her grandmother, who she used to share with, had recently died. The grandmother, Kali Ma, comes back as a ghost or spirit, but only her granddaughter can see her, although Immy soon begins to see ghosts twisted to the house too.
There are a number of themes about family and history in this book, and I really enjoyed the details of the first female Asian NHS GPs which is linked to the house. However, there was almost too much history crammed into the story! Immy's social worker tells us about Windrush, the house was used as a home for Indian ayahs, and the house's history comes to light with the help of a Roma family living on a barge nearby. These were all fascinating stories, and a great reflection of London's history, but I almost wanted a book about each set of characters. 
It took me a while to get into the story, but once I had, I was very invested in the sisterly relationship between the girls, and how they would help lay the ghosts to rest.
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When Secrets Set Sail is a truly beautiful,  haunting book that brought tears to my eyes more than once. Aimed at children aged 9 to 11 it tells the story of Imtiaz and Ushmi and their search for pieces of a secret which will right wrongs and redress the past.

The story's heart lies back in the past where an Englishman met and married an Indian woman whom he loved very dearly. Sadly she died and he was left to return to England with his baby daughter and her Aya. How their story ties in with that of Imtiaz and Ushmi is part of the tapestry that has been so perfectly woven by Sita Brahmachari, a truly wonderful and prize winning author.

Exceptional and very, very highly recommended.  Publication is on 20 August but you can pre-order it now.
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I really loved Sita’s last book, Where the River Runs Gold so I jumped at the chance to read this one too.

It didn’t quite take my breath away the way Where the River Runs Gold did, but I still very much enjoyed it, the symbolism especially, and it’s one that I can see going down very well with fans of Emma Carroll, A.M. Howell and Gill Lewis’ The Closest Thing to Flying.

Part ghost story, part historical mystery and partly contemporary, Where Secrets Set Sail is a tale rich in culture, history and family; it is a story about knowing, or not knowing, where you come from; of promises, secrets and injustices, both in society and closer to home.

Imitiaz is being adopted by Usha’s family, but timing is poor as she’s moving in just after Usha’s grandmother, Kali Ma’s funeral and Usha seems distracted and unhappy to have her there.

While Usha does have her misgivings about Immy’s arrival, it’s the presence of Kali Ma’s ghost, the arrival of a strange stray cat and the mysterious book and conch shell she’s found in her grandmother’s things that she’s dwelling on.

That, and the imminent prospect of having to give up their home. Her parents run The Hearth downstairs – a community hub supporting refugees and others – but it’s being threatened by bigoted locals who ‘don’t want that sort around here, thank you’. The only way to save it is to find some lost documents, but time is running out.

Imitiaz is sceptical of Usha’s tall tales of ghosts at first, thinking she’s just trying to scare her away and being cold and unfriendly. But when another ghost, Lucky, appears to her too the girls begin to work together to solve a mystery that they hope will bring them closer, bring peace to the ghosts and save their home.

I really liked the way the many themes of the story slotted together, and found the themes of knowing where you come from and the importance of heritage especially engaging.

From Immy trying to find her place as someone who knows nothing of her background to Usha’s family history and the trouble secrets can cause, to the broader social histories of Ayahs and the Windrush generation, the book is steeped in history and strong in its message to remember them.

In particular the story of the forgotten Ayahs – nannies brought back to England with families returning from India but then left stranded with no passage back – was really interesting, very sad and something I’d previously known nothing about.

I thought the way racism was highlighted, both historically and in the present, too was important, timely and subtly but clearly done.

I thought the use of art, symbolism and traditions in the book as a whole, but especially in the girls’ hunt for the truth was very effective and helped create a real atmosphere, as did the wonderful ship house they live in!

The mystery of Kali Ma and Lucky’s stories and how they are connected is brilliantly unravelled and I really liked the way it drew in other cultures, stories, people and events too (the founding of the NHS, the first female doctors, Roma families and the injustice they have faced and still face today and much more besides).

This is a brilliant historical mystery, rich in culture and with family, identity and equality at its heart. Highly recommended!
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Usha and Imtiaz are about to become sisters when Usha’s family adopt Imtiaz, abandoned at birth. Although they have previously met, they haven’t quite overcome their reluctance to trust one another. The timing is made more difficult by the death of Usha’s beloved Grandmother Kali Ma. Plus, the family are being hounded out of the business premises and home they have made for themselves because they are unable to locate the paperwork they are sure exists to allow them to stay.
But Imtiaz arrives and the pair have to ‘get on with it’. Each misunderstand the other due entirely to the ghosts they each can see, but not one another’s. These ghosts are part of the fabric of the house which has history. It is up to the two girls to work together to discover that and set the ghosts free as well as give the family rights over their own home.
This is a book of traditions, of history affecting the present and ultimately of trust.
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This was an absolute pleasure to read. When Secrets Set Sail, is a welcome gateway for a whole host of issues relating to history, migration, diaspora and the ayahs. Although marketed as a children’s novel it’s magic touches the hearts of all ages! I completely devoured this beautiful, emotional, compelling novel in the space of a day. I couldn't put it down.
They way the story is unraveled is stunning and I can’t express how happy I am to have read it. 
It brought me to the verge of tears on numerous occasions, as the voices of the story, especially the silenced ones of the ayahs, is written in such a compassionate way and I love the way Sita has weaved in many momentous occasions in London’s history, with topics of race and identity in all its complications for a younger generation to read and relate to.
A truly wonderful work!
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How do I describe a book that has so many threads, so much heart and a wonderfully complex mystery at its core? The truth is I cannot do exact justice to the beauty of this story. You will just have to read it!

Imtiaz and Usha are becoming sisters and neither is entirely thrilled with the idea.  Imtiaz was abandoned as a baby, found wrapped in newspapers by the kind hearted Delyse who then raised her.  As part of the wind rush generation, Delyse and new partner Merve are keen to go back home, away from the racism they still feel in London.

Usha has just lost her Grandmother, Kali Ma, and is reeling from this loss and also from the discovery that when she wished her to return, she does as a ghost and Usha must try to set her free again.

In part a ghost story, Usha and Imtiaz are forced to combine efforts to solve the mystery surrounding the return of Kali Ma as well as the arrival of Lucky, another ghost.  A conch shell passed down through the generations holds the secrets of promises, bargains and the keys to saving the family home, which is being threatened.  Known at The Hearth, it is a safe and welcoming space for refugees and those needing extra support. 

Searching for lost connections throughout history, Usha and Imtiaz make amazing discoveries, find themselves adapting to being siblings and bring together the community in new ways, ensuring a future for themselves and those with the greatest need. 

Imtiaz is full of spirit, bold and forced to be strong for she is alone in the world.  Usha must let Imtiaz in to her sacred circle and this is challenging.  Both girls have much to overcome but it is a heart warming story to read.

Absolutely adored this book and feel bereft for having finished it.  Such heart and soul, beauty and love conveyed within the pages.
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