Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
July 7, 2015
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In their present-day tourist trap of an Irish seaside town, famed for its supposed involvement with selkies in the past, three sisters are faced with the sudden disappearance of their mother. Crushed by the loss, their father is struggling to carry on. To make matters worse, there are rumors afloat in the village that their mother herself is a selkie who has now shed her human form and gone back to sea. As Cordie Sullivan, the oldest daughter, tries to learn more about her mother's vanishing, she must find the strength to help her family move ahead, even as she discovers an increasing number of clues that point to a hidden island off the coast--a mythical kingdom of the selkies.
One of my favorite things about Secrets of Selkie Bay was its setting. It is set in present-day Ireland, but it feels almost removed from time. With mentions of things like television, we know that it is taking place currently, but something about Thomas's writing and the sisters' lives makes it feel older, too. The feeling fits the story incredibly well.
Cordie is the oldest of the three sisters, at nearly twelve-years-old, she knows it's her job to look after her sisters, eight-year-old Ione and baby Neevy, now that their mother has disappeared. It's up to her to her to be the responsible one.
As she tries to discover why their mother left for herself, she also tries to spare Ione some of the pain. They live in a town running on selkie legends and folklore and one of their beloved books is all about selkies. The lies she tells Ione to make her feel better are supposed to be just that, lies. But as the days progress and more and more things start to add up, Cordie wonders if she's believing her own tales.
The sisters relationship with each other was very enjoyable. I liked that, even at such a young age, Coride was trying to take care of her family - to help her father with money, to shield her sisters from the pain of their mother's leaving. I also liked that through her struggle, we really get to see Cordie's own struggle to understand what's happened and to deal with it.
Everything about the selkies in Secrets of Selkie Bay is nicely done. I loved the town - all of the shop names, how they made money off selkie lore, even if they weren't sure they believed it. The book has a magical feel, even as readers are left wondering whether the selkies are just a myth, a nice story and something to help ease Ione's pain . . . . or if they're real.
The ending was not what I wanted. It felt too sudden and not as wonderful as the rest of the book. I understood what it was doing and liked the idea but it felt a bit flat and lackluster.
The story of the Sullivan sisters and Selkie Bay is still one I would recommend.