I loved this book. It reminded me of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: a story of mythical creatures on an isolated island, told with gorgeous prose, and a bit of romance.
Tides is a book about selkies. Creatures that live in the water as seals, but can take off their sealskin and step on the beach as humans. They need to change in order to grow up, but if anyone ever steals their sealskin, they fall completely under that person’s thrall, unable to speak or do anything to escape.
It’s been five years since Mara’s younger sister was taken. She knows it isn’t safe to go out as a human, but she can’t resist visiting land as often as she’s able, even if her Elder has forbidden it. But when she befriends a young man named Noah who is staying with his grandmother on these lonely islands for the summer, she gets a surprise: the Elder, Maebh, is sitting in Noah’s grandmother’s kitchen. Because, despite Maebh’s insistence that humans are dangerous, she’s in love with one too.
OK, maybe the relationship between the grandmother, Gemm, and Maebh isn’t the central part of the story. But it was the most compelling element to me. The few chapters where they told their history were my favorites in the book, and it’s the one time I’ve felt that a book was held back by being YA, because I longed to hear more about the two of them, and perhaps get some chapters from their points of view.
There’s also the expected romance between Mara and Noah, told from both their points of view, and it’s nice enough, although like a lot of YA books, I felt they fell “in love” waayy too quickly, and it ended up feeling somewhat unbelievable. I preferred hearing from the third POV character, Noah’s little sister Lo, who has come to the islands to escape from her overbearing parents and take time alone to sketch. She’s got a lot of issues to work through — she’s adopted, and she’s suffering from bulimia — but the story never falls into cliched “let’s address these issues” territory. She’s a compelling character, with strengths and struggles of her own, and her growing relationship to the selkies, and growing confidence in herself, is wonderful to read.
So yeah. It’s a story of lesbian relationships, interracial adoption, eating disorders, and selkies. And it’s masterfully told. Some could argue that the “issues” of the story aren’t dealt with much depth, but ultimately, they’re not the focus. They’re just facts of life, even when mythical creatures are emerging from the water, and helped to ground an otherwise atmospheric fantastical tale.
If you love mythical creatures and fairy tales, this is definitely one to read.