Published by Houghton Miffin Harcourt on 1st April 2014 (first published 4th June 2013)
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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When Noah Gallagher and his sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don't expect much in the way of adventure. Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then Noah tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning, and their summer takes a dramatic turn.This book is so enchanting and lovely and a real breath of fresh air in the realm of YA fantasy.
Mara is beautiful and aloof... and she has a voice like nothing Noah has ever heard before, silky and watery and deep. Noah and Lo could both use a friend their age on the remote island, but something seems to be holding Mara back. What sorts of secrets could she and her close-knit family be hiding? And will discovering them put Noah and Lo in danger?
This dreamlike, suspenseful story – deftly told from multiple points of view – dives deeply into selkie folklore while examining the fluid nature of love and family.
The thing that really makes it stand out? Noah's grandmother, Gemm, features quite heavily in this story, and she's good friends with a woman called Maebh – and you very quickly find out that the two women are romantically involved. I loved the relationship between Gemm and Maebh! I mean, how often do you see an elderly same-sex couple in YA? Never, that's how. Grandparents don't even feature very often in YA, now that I think about it. (And you know what? I would love to see more grandparents in YA in general!)
But anyway, we got to hear about how Gemm and Maebh fell in love when they were younger, and how Gemm hurt Maebh by leaving and marrying a man, but eventually came back to her after years and years. It was beautiful and realistic, and I adored the strength and endurance of their love. They were so sweet together and really affectionate towards each other, and I loved getting to see that in a YA novel. It was easily the best part of the story.
You also find out that Maebh is a selkie. I mean, the story is about selkies, they gotta feature somewhere, and it's pretty obvious from the get-go that she is, so I don't feel like that's a spoiler. Maebh is the selkie Elder, and Mara is one of her daughters. The main thread of the plot is that one of the selkie younglings, Aine, was kidnapped five years ago, and they've been afraid to go ashore and let the other younglings change ever since.
There's a blossoming romance between Noah and Mara, which kind of pales in comparison to the relationship between Gemm and Maebh. I found that it wasn't really that well-developed, even though it was meant to be the central romance of the story. I was also far more interested in Noah's sister, Lo, than in Noah, and I wish we could have spent more time on seeing Lo and Mara's friendship develop. They seem to just become good friends quickly, but we don't really get to see it happen. We only get glimpses of them having fun together and enjoying each other's company, mostly through Noah's eyes.
I really liked Lo. Though the story is told from multiple points of view, Noah is definitely meant to be the main character, and I just wish Lo had actually been the main character instead. Her feelings deserve more space in the story! I could relate to her a lot more than I could Noah. She loves detail and order and art, and she grows closer to her brother over the course of the story. She also slowly starts to listen to her own body again.
The story is mostly a quiet one, but it actually drew towards a rather surprisingly intense and thrilling climax. I was pleased by how well the author paced the story. I was never bored.
The prose is so smooth and lyrical. You know that feeling you get when you look at the cover of this book? It's like that, but in words. Dreamy and as enveloping as the ocean. I loved that it was about the inbetween – and for me, that is the space between childhood and adulthood, the uncertainty of it all. I loved that it was about family, especially unconventional ones. Lo is adopted, and at the end of the story Noah thinks of Gemm and Maebh as his two grandmothers.
Looking for more diversity in your books? This is a wonderful book to add to your shelves. It's beautifully written and it tells a unique story about love and family. Also, selkies!