This book is in bookshops now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.
It takes quite a lot of trust and faith in your reader to mix a thoroughly ancient legend, in this case about mythical selkies, with a modern of coming of age story. Half of the main characters in this book by Rachael King are in fact seals; seals that, in keeping with Scottish legend, turn into beautiful young women when they cast their skins aside to walk on land. The mythical selkies. The other characters are one half of a modern day separated family trying to get on with life as best they can. It also takes a good storyteller to pull it off.
Surprisingly perhaps, I found myself suspending disbelief; and I became entranced by this book and its characters. And it happened so subtly that I didn’t even notice. The main character Jake is a little lost – his parents are divorced, his mother remarried with a new baby. He visits his father who is living a nomadic writer’s existence on the Wellington coast. But the school holidays are never much fun without friends, so the adventurous Jake takes off to explore the rocks of the Wellington coastline. He makes friends with another equally lonely young girl and an old man and attracts the interest of some local bullies. But it is when he finds an abandoned seal skin which he hauls home that the trouble really begins. The taking of the skin is the key turning point in this book as it unravels the story and importantly prevents its rightful owner from going to back to the sea.
Hindsight is a great thing. And of course, I can tell you now that I knew all along which characters were human and which were seals, but what’s clever is the way this realisation subtly unfolds. There is not a moment of mass revelation, you just suddenly begin to understand who the characters are and how they inter-relate and it feels natural. I guess that’s why it easy to believe in all of the characters in this book; they just work.
Interestingly, I just handed the book to my eleven year old saying it was great and I think you will like it. He read the back (which mentions seal skins but nothing about selkies) and he asked “What’s up with selkies? This is the third book this year that’s had slekies in it.”
Really? I had no idea. Apparently, his teacher has been reading these books to them in class.
“What time period have they been set in?” I asked.
“Ancient of course” was his reply. “And all in Scotland.”
“What about one set in Wellington in modern times. Could that work?”
But there is no maybe about it. This book works and it’s a gripping page-turning tale.
The book should appeal to any reader (young or old) who is able to suspend reality briefly, but after all isn’t that what reading is all about?
Reviewed by Gillian Torckler
by Rachael King
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781869799144 (paperback)
ISBN 9781869799151 (e-book)