Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Tides


This is a blogoversary post, the review was originally posted on June 22, 2013. 

Tides by Betsy Cornwell is the story of Noah Gallagher and his sister Lo who are coming to the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, to stay with their grandmother for the summer. Noah has taken an internship at the local marine research center, and Lo has been struggling with bulimia and is basically coming for a change of scenery and hopefully a new start. Their grandmother lives alone on the island although it quickly becomes apparent she has a relationship with another woman. That relationship is in many ways central to the story as the past and present come together.

This is really the story of Noah and Mara however. Mara is a selkie a seal who can take human form. Mara  seems more drawn to the land than many of her kind, and she likes to watch people from afar, like the guests on the lawn at the island hotel. She and Noah meet by accident, he is running one day and sees a girl who he thinks is drowning. He rescues her- or tries too, but quickly realizes she doesn’t need rescuing at all. Their relationship starts off a little rocky, but they soon discover a mutual attraction… and some surprising family links.

Mara feels early on that she can trust Noah, and doesn't really understand why. Their relationship is complicated by a lot of things, not least of which is the natural distrust the selkies feel towards humans. We learn more about the selkies and their ways, and also the complex relationship Noah's grandmother has with these ancient beings.

It was refreshing to read a story where the characters actually communicate with each other. So often in stories like this secrets are kept and the characters don’t know what’s going on for half the book, but here  people talk to each other. This book is instead about exploring the feelings bubbling under the surface, and I appreciated that. There’s a moment towards the end where Noah is in trouble and Mara is coming to help. She thinks "I’m coming” and it was a powerful moment. I loved it.

I was really taken with the love story  between Noah and Mara, it was sweet and virtuous and real. It didn’t feel cheap or rushed… their relationship evolved naturally. I also liked the sibling relationship between Noah and Lo- you could really feel her pain at times, and the way her feelings towards Noah changed. They grew closer through their shared experiences, and that felt natural too.

The only thing I didn’t like was the plotline regarding Aine. Early on we learn about Mara’s sister Aine and her disappearance but there is no indication that this will play an immediate role in the story- however it becomes clear that the disappearance is relevant when tragedy strikes again, and Noah and Mara must take action. The truth about Aine’s disappearance is somewhat horrific and provides the only action sequence in the book, but I thought it was too closely linked to Noah and his reason for being on the island in the first place. It just seemed a little too convenient for me.

The ending is bittersweet and pulled at the heartstrings a bit. It is however the only realistic ending- and it left me wanting a sequel. 


  1. I haven't heard of this book. It sounds interesting and the review is great, Greg. One of my daughters spent a summer at the Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island so the book is especially interesting! And contratulations on your blogoversary!

    1. Thank you Jan! I was wondering as I was reading this is the Isles of Shoals were real, and sure enough they were! I had not been familiar w/ them beforehand... they look very interesting, and the story very much draws on the atmosphere of the islands. I bet that would be a great place to spend a summer, and very educational.

    2. Yes, she loved it. She took classes and then stayed on to work doing odd jobs like painting buildings, mowing grass, working in the dining hall. Very good summer for her.

    3. That's awesome. I remember thinking as i read this that it sounded like a neat place. The characters had to take boats anywhere they went- the setting really is half the story. I believe there is a sequel in the works as well...