There is so much in this book to linger over, from Kay and Thea’s relationship with each other to the strength and autonomy of Kay’s mind to Endicott’s lyrical descriptions of the sea and the ship. It’s a novel to return to again and again… a quiet, elegant triumph with no easy answers.

* Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

W.W. Norton, US

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On the Morning Light, a three-masted barque from Nova Scotia sailing the trade winds to the South Pacific in 1911, young Kay feels herself not wanted on her sister’s long-postponed honeymoon voyage. Thea will not abandon her young sister, so Kay too embarks on a life-changing voyage to the other side of the world.

Awash with vistas of beauty, the novel follows the deep pull of the characters toward harmony, justice, and home… shimmers with intelligence and humor.

Christian Science Monitor, The 10 best books of June bring hope and insight

Sweeping, seafaring coming-of-age novels about young men are standard fare. What makes Endicott’s contribution to the genre, which is based on a true story, so noteworthy is the grit, determination and charm of her young female adventurer. Endicott artfully combines a bracing world voyage and the equally transformative journey of a young woman discovering and honoring her genuine nature. With her passion for all the creatures and cultures she encounters, Kay shines as a timely embodiment of the solace of human connection across time and space.


Inspired by the true story of a Nova Scotia woman who bought a little boy in the South Seas, The Voyage of the Morning Light shows us a now-vanished world in all its wonder—and in its darkness, prejudice and difficulty, too. Endicott brilliantly illuminates our present time through young Kay’s contemplation of the idea of “difference” between languages, people, classes, continents, cultures, customs and species. The Voyage of the Morning Light brings past worlds vividly to life while revealing the moral complexity of our own.

A rich and wonderful read, with ships and whales and a tincture of Greek, centering on an observant young troublemaker of a heroine, who navigates a sea of memorable characters, each of them drawn with Dickensian skill. An adventure story that comes full circle emotionally, The Voyage of the Morning Light will find a place among the beloved seagoing classics.

Mary Norris, author of Greek to Me

The adventure of life at sea has distractions and consolations, and as they traverse the globe, stopping at the various ports of call on the way to China, Kay finds herself perplexed by questions: is there a difference between ourselves and other humans? Between human and animal? How can we eradicate that persistent, illusory difference from our deepest and least conscious minds?

Lovely in its graveness, and in its comedy. The cut of the prose is so keen and the happenings are so finely wrought that it contorts where it can’t help but contort, around the places where unanswerable grief comes into our lives.

Helen Oyeyemi

At the heart of The Voyage of the Morning Light is a crystallizing moment in Micronesia: forming a sudden bond with a young boy from a remote island, Thea takes him away as her son. The repercussions of this act force Kay, who considers the boy her brother, to examine her own assumptions—increasingly at odds with those of society around her—about what is forgivable, and what is right.

“They ended up buying the little boy for four pounds of tobacco. He didn’t know anything. When he saw stairs he started down head first on hands and knees. Of course, he had no manners either! He had to be taught.”

from Kathryn Ladd’s account of her mother’s purchase

In sailing through a wilderness of new sensations and wonders, vivid and strange, The Voyage of the Morning Light takes on a deeper and more troubling past. As Kay works to understand how to be in the world, she asks questions that resonate today: what makes us human? How do we atone for unforgivable sins, and make things right?

I loved being at sea with Kay and Thea, and found it hard to part from them. How movingly the novel considers the otherness between people, between the world and us, between human and all other life. Its boldness has a deep humility. Marina Endicott allows her characters to exist without being afraid of their (and our) moral dilemmas and failures, or the gap between our intentions and our understanding. She writes about goodness so well—so beautifully and joyfully. I feel as if I could close my eyes and still be at sea with these characters. A wonderful, brilliant book. —Madeleine Thien, Giller Prize-winning author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Marina Endicott’s The Difference will break your heart (over and over)