‘Waves battered the beach, chattering to the stones as they receded. Jake stood still, watching the rocks, waiting for a movement. And there it was: a seal, with sleek, damp fur, launching itself into the water like a torpedo. He looked for it amongst the floating islands of kelp, thought he spotted it at first but no, there it was, further away. It’s head surfaced and it rolled onto its back, raised one flipper as if in a wave and was gone.’
Red Rocks Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand.
And so begins the story of Jake, visiting his writer father in Owhiro Bay, Wellington. Jake normally lives in Auckland with his mother, her husband Greg and their new baby, Davey. He is spending two weeks with his father over the school holidays. His father is busy writing a book, so Jake has quite a lot of freedom, and goes exploring on his bike. When he is exploring the red rocks, he discovers a fissure, a small cave, and hidden in the depths of the cave is a seal skin. For a reason not quite fathomable to Jake, he takes it home. Soon after, he sees a red haired woman roaming town, appearing to search for something. Jake meets Jessie, a young girl, who is the granddaughter of an old man, Ted, who lives in a shack on the beach. Jessie has something mysterious about her:
‘The little girl had piqued his curiosity. The way she looked at him made him want to talk to her, to find out what was going on behind those dark eyes. She was younger than him, so maybe they wouldn’t have much to say to each other, but maybe if she was cheeky, like Ted said, she could be fun to hang out with. He hadn’t met many kids his own age here.’
The story develops, with some nice tension, and the windy, unpredictable and rugged coastline of Wellington being an additional character to the story. We are introduced to the story of the Selkie when Jessie discovers that Jake has the sealskin.
‘Do you know what a selkie is?’ she asked.
‘A selkie? No. Should I?’
‘Selkies are seal people. The seals come on land and they shed their skins so they can walk on the earth like humans do. When they have finished their business, they put their skins back on and become seals again.’
‘But that’s just a fairy story,’ said Jake, who could remember something he had heard a long time ago. A story, set in Ireland maybe, where his ancestors had come from.
‘Jessie stared at him, hard. ‘It’s not a story. It is real. Jake, if you have stolen a sealskin, then whoever it belongs to will be stuck in human form.’ Jake was surprised to see tears form in her eyes. ‘You must put it back.’
Unfortunately for Jake, further complications arise when his father discovers the seal skin. Stormy, stormy times…beautifully written. Jake’s confusing age is probably OK since that is true of teenage hood! Sometimes they want to be children. Sometimes, independent adults. His stormy and unpredictable relationship with his father is also quite believable.
Sadly, I felt that the story lost its path a little about two thirds of the way through. Without going into any detail, the character focus changes, and I think to the detriment of the story. However, by the end it is easy to forgive this, and the denouement is thrilling.
I’m going to try this out on some 11-12 year olds and see what their perspective of the story is. Hopefully, I’ll be able to let you know!!
Highly recommended. Readers of 10+. Some mature readers of 9yrs may also enjoy it.