Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children on June 4, 2013
Genres: YA, YA Paranormal
Source: ARC won in a giveaway
When high-school senior Noah Gallagher and his adopted teenage sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don’t expect much in the way of adventure. Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even to vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then things take a dramatic turn for them both when Noah mistakenly tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning. This dreamlike, suspenseful story—deftly told from multiple points of view—dives deeply into selkie folklore while examining the fluid nature of love and family.
Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality
Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Lo is Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 4 (Lo and Noah’s grandmother is gay and in a relationship with one of the selkies)
Disability: 3 (Lo is recovering from bulimia)
Intersectionality: 2 (See: Lo)
Winning a giveaway feels ridiculously good, doesn’t it? I think the only way you lose that exhilarated feeling of winning is to enter and win giveaways all the time. And maybe even then, you might not. I dunno, I’m not a regular giveaway winner. But Tides is one of the few books I’ve ever won from a giveaway! I got it from the “retweet and win” style giveaway the publisher’s account @HMHKids held right before the book’s release date.
Yeah, that was in 2013. I’M SO SUPER PUNCTUAL, I KNOW. I heard good things about it back then and I’m happy I finally got to read it.
Even though it’s been four years since Tides came out, I’ve remained blissfully unaware about the book’s content. The paranormal creature featured being selkies was a delight, seeing as they’ve severely underexplored in YA books and their mythology is a stealthy kind of horrifying. Being forcibly bound to whichever human picks up your skin? Yeah, that’s terrifying. It fondly reminded me of Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley, one of my favorite novels. In fact, Feather Bound may well have drawn from selkie mythology!
Anyway, the fact selkies are at the heart of the book is revealed quickly. Like, within the first 50-100 pages kind of quickly. It doesn’t force the reader to wallow in mystery and instead sees siblings Lo and Noah bond with the selkies that live around their grandmother’s island home. Their grandmother Gemm is closer to the selkies than even they are, seeing as she’s in a relationship with Maebh, the Elder of the selkie pod. GAY SELKIES!!!
Also, it gives me a small boost of joy every time there’s an elderly QUILTBAG person who doesn’t die for the main character’s development or function as the one-note quirky character. Their mere existence can be encouraging to QUILTBAG kids by telling them yes, you WILL survive and you’ll grow old like anyone else. With such high suicide rates among queer people and especially queer teens, it can mean a lot to a queer kid to see that someone like them makes it to old age.
The characters are delightful and I love the romance between Noah and Mara, the teenage selkie who likes to hang out on land while the rest of the pod stay in the sea (sans Maebh, who’s sneaking onshore to be with Gemm). Since the disappearance/kidnapping of one selkie named Aine a few years before, they’ve done their best to remain in the sea.
The book’s small cast makes what happened to Aine obvious, but the reveal of what’s been going on is chilling. I’d say it strays into the realm of body horror, even. However, the book feels overly linear somehow? It took me so long to finish Tides once I started it because it couldn’t hold my attention. It moved from point A to point B to point C in a way that simply couldn’t grab me.
But the most important thing: Lo and Aine are definitely gay even though they’re not. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES, I JUST STATE THEM.
Tides is an underappreciated gem of a YA novel. I don’t know if I’ll read any of Cornwell’s other books because they never interested me, but I’ll be looking out for a copy of Tides I can add to my personal shelf. I prefer to replace my ARCs with finished copies, especially when I love the book!