The English Channel has long been a scene of triumph for long-distance swimmers keen to front crawl the 21 miles between England and France. But this often tumultuous seaway is also notorious for being a watery graveyard of migrants and refugees. In The Crossing by Manjeet Mann, the lives of Nat, a young English Channel swimmer, and Sammy, an Eritrean refugee collide. Winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award 2021, this quietly devastating verse novel explores the perspective of two teenagers from very different worlds.
The story begins on Day 366, counting down through a momentous year in both their lives. Day 0, when it arrives, will prove to be seismic.
We meet Sammy, living under an Eritrean regime that has murdered his father, destroyed the free press, and condemned young men to indefinite military conscription and a life of repression. Aware of the hardships ahead, Sammy decides to risk his life and cross continents in a bid to make it to the UK. His story makes for a gruelling read. Kidnap, torture, starvation, a price worth paying as he tells a TV crew at a UN refugee centre en route. After all, the UK is safe, the ‘land of the free.’
‘The man looks at me like he knows something I don’t.’
Sammy’s TV interview is seen in England by Nat. She is transfixed by the news report and by Sammy’s charisma and haunting eyes. Nat is training to swim the Channel, in aid of a refugee charity and in memory of her beloved late mother, a humanitarian and wise soul.
‘I swim, thinking of the boy on the TV…I feel some sort of connection to him.’
Nat’s sixth sense about Sammy is realised as the teenagers’ stories intertwine in Mann’s clever dual-narrative verse. Careful to also present the reasons behind anti-refugee sentiment, she provides much food for thought and an emotional power punch.
An ambitious and deserving Costa winner.
The Crossing by Manjeet Mann is published by Penguin, 320 pages.