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.
Tell Me More: Selkie folklore is, bar none, my favourite sea myth, so it won’t come as a shock to anyone that as soon as I found out about Tides, I knew I had to pick it up.
From the first melodic line in the prologue, Betsy Cornwell sets up a story that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. And how could it, when so much of selkie mythology talks about how they are fleeting visitors in one’s life? Unlike many mermaids in popular culture, selkies may be enchanted by land, may need it, but they never stay for long. Cornwell does an excellent job of capturing the ephemeral nature of the selkie and her writing style fits very well with the way Noah begins to learn about them.
Interestingly enough, Tides employs a few different points-of-view within the story, a technique I also encountered in The Brides of Rollrock Island. I actually enjoyed the use of multiple narrators–it contributed well to the idea of dualism and differences within the story. The same theme is reflected in the cover: both the seal and woman move in different directions. Noah also finds himself facing conflicts between what he believes to be true, and what he has begun to see as fact, and Cornwell handles this uncertainty and confusion with a gentle hand.
If there was one thing I was dissatisfied with, it would be the way social issues seemed to pop up every few chapters. Merged seamlessly with the story, these aspects would not have been as distracting as they were, though I understood that the contemporary setting might have lent itself to that opportunity. That said, if a little more time had been spent elaborating on Lo’s bulimia, I think that conflict would have been an excellent addition to the story, as it fits with the theme of shedding a part of oneself to take on another form.
The Final Say: Tides is not a story to be read quickly–it is best consumed in pieces, to let the prose sink in and work its magic. Betsy Cornwell is an author to watch for her subtle and captivating writing style.
Betsy Cornwell wrote her first novel, TIDES, as a student at Smith College. After graduating from Smith and getting an MFA from Notre Dame, she moved to Ireland to live with the fairies.