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Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, stat_2, young-adult, reviewed

Stuff I Read - Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas Review

This book surprised me. I mean, it’s marketed as a middle grade novel, but the prose is such, the mood such, that I had absolutely no trouble getting into it, enjoying it. There is a darkness to it that makes it instantly compelling, both for younger readers and for adults. At least, for me the book seems like a great example of a strong central narrative and story of three sisters dealing with the disappearance of their mother. Like many other great examples of children’s literature, it manages to tackle some very mature themes in ways that make the relatable to people of every age.

The story itself is focused on Cordelia, the oldest of three sisters (though she is only eleven going on twelve in the story) who feels very conflicted about her mother. The book captures the pain, the fear of abandonment, the way she wants to fill the gap her mother left and be a good sister and just still seething at the way she’s been treated. She feels the burden of responsibility and grows up a little too fast but even so can’t resist the fantasy that she creates as a shield. Because when her sister asks too many questions, Cordie makes up a story about their mother being a Selkie that had to return to the sea. It’s done to get her sister to leave her alone, but it takes on a power all its own. Especially because Selkies as a lie to cover the truth isn’t exactly common to her. There is a man in town convinced that Selkies are real, and he feeds their fantasy.

I loved how the story remains a good magic realism tale, one where the speculative element is metaphoric and yet also, perhaps, real. There is so much power and weight ot the story, to these girls going out on their own onto the sea in search of treasure, in search of their mother. That they stumble upon a mystic island and befriend some thought-to-be-extinct seals that seem an awful lot more intelligent than they should is part of what sells the magic of the piece, that nothing is quite over the top, that it's all grounded in personal tragedies and more mundane miracles. And the ending. The book really managed to surprise me with what it revealed, and the impact was that much more jarring from the twist. Some might feel a little annoyed at being kept so in the dark, but I think it captured that child's perspective of events, the injustice that people don't think children capable of handling the truth.

And that, at its core, is the book, an exploration of childhood guilt and trauma surrounding loss. How children fill in the voids that adults leave with stories that make sense to them, stories that are often filled with magic and wonder. The characters are solid and especially the sisters, who argue and bicker and make up and stick by each other. This is their story, their shared story, and I liked the asides into tales they tell, into the lies that are really getting at the truth. I liked the ending that didn't wave away all the magic, and I liked the persistent darkness, the feeling that all is not completely forgiven at the end but that relief is just so palpable. It's a fun story, one much more complex and layered than I expected, and in the end it earns 8.25 unclubbed seals out of 10.
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Reading Progress

June 25, 2015 – Started Reading
June 25, 2015 – Shelved
June 25, 2015 – Shelved as: fantasy
June 25, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_2
June 25, 2015 – Shelved as: young-adult
June 25, 2015 –
page 208
100.0% "That was surprisingly good. I mean, much more literary and weird than I would have guessed. Dark and quite interesting. Indeed."
June 25, 2015 – Finished Reading
July 8, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

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