The Secret Deep, by Lindsay Galvin

The Secret Deep, by Lindsay Galvin (Scholastic, Feb 4 2020), is a sci-fi mystery/adventure that's difficult to review, because it's best read without spoilers, but hard to talk about without them.  So conclusion first--this is a fun adventure with science pushed to fantastical limits, with lots of ocean adventure, and a thought-provoking consideration of the ethics of medical consent.  It's upper middle grade (classic "tween")-- 11-14 year olds. There's some nascent romance, but it's not a plot point.  It wasn't really a book that hit all the right notes for me, but if you look at Goodreads you'll find lots of readers who loved it.

It begins with two sisters, Aster and Poppy, flying to New Zealand to live with their aunt after their mother dies from cancer.  Aunt Iona is an oncologist, but she wasn't around to help her sister; instead, she was travelling frenetically around the world, helping various disadvantaged communities, seemingly unaware of how dire the situation for her nieces had become.

But after several months living with a family friend, the girls are on their way to their aunt.  Who turns out not to have a real home for them.  Instead, she takes them to a wilderness camp, where she's gathered refugee and homeless teens for an experiment in healthy living.  It is an odd set up, but the girls try to make the best of it.

It gets odder when Aunt Iona bundles all the kids onto a boat, ostensibly for an enriching expedition, and odder still when a sleeping gas fills the boat, knocking all the kids out.  At this point the reader can't help but realize that Aunt Iona is a piece of work, though just what work that is still unclear.

When Aster regains consciousness, she's on a small island, and is joined by two other teens.  Things are strange, and get stranger still....and (skipping over lots of the strangeness), it turns out (and this isn't a spoiler really because all the clues are there) Aunt Iona has been doing medical tinkering on the kids, without their consent, in the name of making them safe from cancer, and things haven't gone the way she planned.

Meanwhile, a second point of view character, a young New Zealand teen named Sam, who met the girls on their journey, is following his own trail of clues into this mystery.  He's motivated by his desperate need to help his grandfather, who's dying from cancer, and unwittingly he brings the most dangerous piece possible on the board of this medical chess game, another scientist who Aunt Iona was emphatically trying to cut ties with, whose ethics are even more questionable than hers....

Aster is in the middle of a mystery, and desperately worried about her sister, but can't do much in the way of solving things.  She's more a spectator than an instigator in the events that unfold.  Sam also doesn't actually do anything that helps the situation.  And I think this is why the story, for all it's entertaining science gone crazy, felt a little flat; yes, it's interesting to see the two of them noticing the strangenesses and starting to put the pieces together, but the resolution happens without their direct instigation, although both play parts in the violent final confrontation.

But what really left me feeling a bit cheated is that the most gripping story of all isn't told.

(Spoiler here! really real spoiler)

While Aster and the two other teens are on their island, all the other kids from the camp, including Poppy, are living underwater, breathing with gills, unable to talk to each other and afraid to try to breath air again.  For nine months they live like this.  And yet this experience, so fascinating, so awful, and so strange, gets almost no page time.  And Aster, when she realizes she too can breathe underwater, doesn't seem to give it much thought.  

Oh well; I did enjoy reading it though I didn't love it...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. There is a LOT going on here. I don't read much SciFi, but this sounds interesting. Thanks for your review.


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