Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, 262 pages
YA Historical Fantasy
Before I read Selkie Girl, I took a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads. While I tend not to put a lot of stock in what other readers are saying about a book, particularly on a platform which lends itself to brief, spur-of-the-moment
reviews, I noticed that there was a common complaint: the cover was not at all reflective of the book. This is accurate. While the cover of the edition I read suggested mermaids (other than the title), if you do not know what a selkie is prior to reading the novel, you might believe that a “selkie” is another word for mermaid. This is true to some extent — selkies are typically defined as a mythical creature that can live in the physical form of a seal or human. But the cover also suggests a modern take on the selkie myth.
Brooks’ YA novel takes place in an unspecified time, though it’s easy to imagine the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Elin Jean, mucking about in late-1700s Scotland. A loner in her hometown, Elin Jean fears the taunting and cruelty of her peers. Her webbed fingers keep her from making friends and developing a sense of self-esteem, leaving her to befriend the selkies that come ashore and shed their seal skins on Midsummer’s Eve. Elin Jean’s limited human contact consists mainly of her family: Mither, Fither, and Grandfather. But they are keeping a secret from her — one that affects them all.
Like many bildungsromans, Selkie Girl focuses largely on what it means to “be yourself” and “know yourself.” Elin Jean’s understanding of herself is severely stunted as a result of her isolation and low self-esteem. She has no sense purpose other than a great desire to interact with the selkies and struggles to identify what characteristics are strictly Elin Jean. While Tam McCodron, Elin Jean’s love/hate interest, seems to have a pretty good grip on himself, he, too, learns much through the pages of the novel.
Admittedly, the plot takes some unexpected turns. In some instances, it relies too heavily on life-threatening drama. Elin Jean experiences a number of events which have the potential to kill her. While this works a few times, it eventually becomes an overused hook in the novel, leaving the reader to wonder, “Can Elin Jean really be so careless?” Unfortunately, while there were many plot points that were unpredictable, the main twist was blatantly obvious. Dealing mainly with the theme and a particular relationship in the novel, the revelation of this twist can leave the reader disappointed as it seems like such the obvious choice.
The writing style wavers in strength throughout the story. It is the antiquated style (and lack of technology) in the novel which clues the reader into an era, but it takes Brooks some pages before it reads naturally. After settling into the style, it becomes a sort of lulling lyric, until a large plot shift occurs about two-thirds through, and the speech patterns and vocabulary feel unnatural again. Overall, the writing style needed some more work and might have benefited from some modernization and paring down.
❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤