Title: Secrets of Selkie Bay
Author: Shelley Moore Thomas
Format: Physical ARC
I received an ARC of this book from Oakland Public Library in return for a review.
Too often, middle grade novelists oversimplify their works, leaving the age group with overtly moralistic novels that have cardboard characters and exceedingly simple prose. Secrets of Selkie Bay escapes that trap, with deceptively complex themes, characters with multiple facets, and morals without moralizing. Plus, it's magical realism with selkies.
Secrets of Selkie Bay tells the story of an 11-year-old (almost 12!) trying to care for her family, both financially and emotionally, after their mother disappears. She finds a note her mother left her in a book about selkies, and when her younger sister is having a hard time, she tells her a story that their mother is a selkie—a story she keeps telling herself she doesn't believe.
Because their family is hung up for cash, they do some work for a local store owner, who seems to be a grumpy old selkie hating man. However, what astounded me most about this book is how the characters aren't painted in stark black and white; we get a chance to see beyond his "evil old man" attitude.
The book also addresses the environmental issues of seals, but not in an overly heavy-handed way. The author's note at the end addresses it further and explains where she got her inspiration.
I feel like Secrets of Selkie Bay also did a good job conveying the feeling of loss and abandonment. Considering Thomas managed to paint this portrayal so clearly using prose meant for younger readers, I feel like it's quite a feat. So many adult novelists seem to miss the mark, but I truly felt resonance with the writing.
Another score is the fact that the book has an ambiguous ending, albeit a "happily ever after" one. I just really appreciate how the author seems to realize that there are many middle grade readers who can appreciate and understand more complex themes and literature.
I will definitely recommend this book to Oakland Public Library. I wouldn't recommend it to all adults; it is still a middle grade novel through and through. But adults who enjoy children's literature will probably get quite a lot out of it.
Secrets of Selkie Bay's expected publication date is July 7th, 2015 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.