The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, 208 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

The Girl from the Sea 
Review Copy from Graphix

The Girl from the Sea is the perfect wish-fulfillment, summer romance with just the right amount of magic. When fifteen-year-old Morgan Kwon slips on the rocky shore one night, her life flashes before her as she sinks under the waves. Or, as Morgan describes it, the boxes she likes to keep the different parts of her life tucked neatly into burst open. Small town life on Wilneff Island in Canada and memories of chasing seagulls with her younger brother when they were little come pouring out of one box. School life and hanging with her friends spill out of another box. Her parents fighting, her father leaving and her brother's anger in the aftermath of divorce flow out another box. And then there is the box that Morgan wants to keep private until she can leave the island for college in any big city where she can "be gay, far away from this tiny town and everyone who's known me since forever."

When Morgan is rescued by - and shares a dreamy kiss with - a selkie, her summer takes an unexpected turn. Keltie, with her waves of yellow hair and luminous seal skin tucked in her pocket, shows up at Morgan's house, in full human form. Morgan learns that the kiss she shared with Keltie has allowed her to transform from a seal to a human and walk on land. And, as Keltie says in her slightly stilted way of talking, "we can find our fortunes together!" Morgan tries to keep Keltie away from her family and friends, but on a small island, that proves impossible. Her friends feel shut out by her silence and absence, but Morgan's deepening romance with Keltie also opens new doors and reawakens old talents. Navigating the challenge of potentially having to share her queerness with family and friends before she's ready to isn't the only problem Morgan faces. While Keltie has been watching and falling in love with Morgan from afar for quite a while, she also has a mission once on land that sets Morgan's friends and Keltie's family on a collision course, literally.

In an interview with The Advocate, Ostertag shared that her inspiration for The Girl from the Sea came from summers spent in the wilds of Nova Scotia where she would fantasize about "meeting people and just getting swept off on a whirlwind romance or even friendship, just that kind of fantasy of having someone appear and just be there for you." And, while she says that she let herself be "very indulgent with this book," drawing the things that she enjoys like "the romances and these sweet, fluffy moments," Ostertag's graphic novel touches on some of the harder parts of adolescence, like discovering and growing your identity and deciding who, how and when to share it with others. Of coming out, Ostertag says it is "a gift that you give yourself . . . the act of explaining your identity to someone is a gift. That is something that they earn through being trustworthy and through loving you, and if you don't feel you can trust people in your life with that gift, then you don't have to. It does not make you less valid as a queer person."

The Girl from the Sea, like Keltie and Morgan, is more than just one thing. And in being that, this graphic novel is a gift to young readers who are coming to know themselves and have the courage to be themselves, especially when being yourself might be alienating to others and potentially dangerous to yourself. Ostertag's message that there are more people who will love you for being yourself than not, especially if you are queer, comes though in The Girl from the Sea. As she says in her interview, "Our community is ready for you and so excited for you, and it's not going anywhere." 

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