The Turning, by Emily Whitman

The Turning (Greenwillow, July 24, 2018) is Emily Whitman's first foray into middle grade, and I hope there will be more mg to come from her!

This is the story of Aran, a boy born to a selkie mother, who is late to take his own seal form.  He keeps up with his seal kin as best he can; even though he's not able to become a seal, he is still a phenomenal swimmer, and doesn't suffer from the cold.  But he's growing too big for his mother to help him travel for long distances, and his kin are beginning to worry that he'll never become truly one of them (after all, his father was human), and he might even pose a danger to their survival (a boy swimming with seals attracts attention....)  When his mother sets out on a long distance mission to seek council from the wise elders far to the north, she reluctantly finds a human home in which he can wait for her.  And so Aran must live as a human boy...

It is hard.  The minutia of being human (the cloths, the food, the daily life) are difficult, but more worryingly, Maggie, the woman he's staying with has a husband, prone to drunken violence, and though he's out at sea, there's the risk he might come back before Aran's seal mother does.  He makes a good friend, a bi-racial girl named Penny, who he learns to trust, and he learns to read, discovering the magic of books with her and her grandfather.  Being human isn't so terrible after all, but the call of the sea is strong, and Aran longs to swim again with his selkie family.

And then his mother doesn't come back when she promised too.  And the drunken husband comes home, and Maggie's life is in danger.  Aran flees out into the open ocean, with only the moon for company, but he can only swim so far....

Fortunately, there's a happy ending that makes the worrying worthwhile!  (Kirkus really didn't like the ending, for what it is worth, but I think that is a perfect ending for young middle grade readers!)

Give this one to myth and magic loving, dreamy sort of readers on the younger middle grade side (9-10 year olds), who will be entranced by Aran's life as both boy and seal child.  Though of course the particulars of Aran's situation won't be shared by those readers, his difficult situation of growing up into a conflict of who he's expected to be, who he wants to be, and who he's going to be able to become is deeply relatable.  Aran's naivete is understandably great, and young readers, with the advantage of having lived as humans their whole life, will be moved by his journey toward understanding and accepting his dual identity.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. This sounds wonderful! Why has no one ever considered the experience of a selkie wife's child? Seems an ideal premise for a story!

  2. Wow. This one sounds great. What an interesting concept for a story. Thanks for telling me about it.

  3. Whitman builds a beautiful slow burn with her evocative middle-grade debut. ...the many layers make for a satisfying read. A contemplative tale about the yearning to belong.


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