Thursday, July 23, 2015

Secrets of Selkie Bay, middle grade built of love

I wish I could be about 10-years-old again so I could discover Secrets of Selkie Bay as a kid, curled up with the book, lost in the magic on the pages. I did that anyway even though I’m long past childhood (on the outside only). This latest middle-grade novel by Shelley Moore Thomas stole my heart.

On the first page Cordie Sullivan’s hollow pain is clear as she says her mother is gone and her father can’t or won’t say where she is because “there just aren’t that many words left anymore.”

Cordie, 11, is left to watch over her two younger sisters, one still a baby, while her father tries to find enough work to keep food on the table. She takes on responsibility beyond her years: “Someone had to pick up, since Da left his things everywhere—socks that were on the floor and never found the hamper, and waterfalls of blankets that trailed down the side of his unmade bed.”

After a couple of months, Cordie finds a letter addressed to her from her mother tucked in an old copy of A Child’s Book of Selkies, a collection of folklore about seals that sometimes become human. The letter says Mum doesn’t want to go but must. And here the magic weaves into the story. Are selkies real? Is their mother a selkie gone home to the sea? Is that why she had to leave?

The fishing village where the Sullivans live cashes in on selkie lore during tourist season, but Cordie is skeptical. Her sister Ione believes fervently that their mother has gone to the secret island she once tried to show them. Aside from the mystery, the story delivers realistic sibling relationships, parents with flaws but lots of love, and a nudge toward respecting nature.

 I love so much of the writing—crisp, moving: “Facing west toward the waves, we stood and did the only thing we could think to do . . . Just us, the three Sullivan girls, crying our seven silver tears into the sea and letting them float atop the foam, hoping they would bring our mum back to us.”

 There is a surprise at the end. I could easily have read more, but I’m pleased that the magical elements remain elusive, leaving the reader to wonder and question. There is no question at all about the power of love, which is the heart of the story and shines on long after the final page is read.

Highly recommend for middle-grade readers. Disclosure: Shelley is a friend I met through blogging, Twitter, and face to face at SCBWI.


Anne Gallagher said...

This is one of those books that I would have loved to read as a kid. I totally love the cover too. So '70's artwork. I'll order it for Monster (although she's not really a reader) and I can indulge. Thanks, Tricia.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wish some of the books I treasure now had been available when I was a kid. I added this to my wish list.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Anne: Yes! I hope you and Monster love it.

Medeia: Me, too. There are so many exceptional books these days. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Nothing quite beats the delight of reading at that age.

Liza said...

I love the sound of this story. May have to indulge my inner child and get it. Certainly would have loved it way back when!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sarah: Being a kid and reading is like the stories open up doors into other worlds and all of it is a wonder, right?

Liza: We need to indulge the inner child. I don't think that ever stops being our core. :)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

This sounds amazing. I'm definitely gonna check it out. <3 Yay for selkie stories.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Karen!!! Hello a million times, hello. Selkies Unite. :)