Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A vast, Nordic setting and a hauntingly melodic tone evoking the rhythm of its harbors anchor this selkie tale. Weaving together ancient stories from Iceland, Scotland and Ireland, Doherty (The Snake-Stone) tells of Gioga, the daughter taken in by Jannet and Monroe, who develops a strange affection and longing for the seals in the waters that surround her island home. Doherty captures readers from the start as she foreshadows, "Men haunt the sea, and the sea gives up to them a glittering harvest. And it is said that the people of the sea haunt the land." Monroe finds the baby in a moon flash beneath the sea and "as he lifted her out of the water he had felt something slip away, like a rag of soft skin. He knew what it was, and he let it go." He keeps this secret and brings Gioga home to his childless wife, to raise as theirsuntil the day she is called to return to her own. A strong cast of supporting characters like Eilean, the strange woman who knows the secret of the seals, and Hill Marliner, the mysterious seal-man who comes to claim what belongs to him, heighten the plot as it moves toward its inevitable yet poignant conclusion. While legends of undersea people are as old as man's uneasy relationship with the enigmatic oceans, what readers will remember from this one is the language of Doherty's masterful storytelling. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 11-up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
British author Doherty has combined fairy tales of the sea from several northern countries to create this lyrical book. The story is familiar, as Munroe brings home a gift of a baby from the sea for his childless wife Jannet. The baby Gioga reinvigorates the dying island community, but she also creates new tensions between the conservative fishing families and Eilean, the madwoman who lives in an upturned boat and spends most of her time crooning to the seals. As Gioga grows, the tensions come to a boil when the young girl finally learns of her true family and true destiny. As in all retold fairy tales, the importance lies in the telling, and Doherty spins her story with a poetic flair that becomes moving.
VOYA - Hilary Crew
Doherty weaves together tales about the selkies from Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland in her story about Jannet and Munroe Jeffray and their daughter, Gioga, who was fished as a baby from the sea. "They'll come for her," warns the old crab woman, Eilean o da Freya, who rescues and hides the baby's seal skin. Three times the stranger, Hill Marliner, comes to claim his daughter. On his second visit, Jannet takes her daughter to stay with relatives on the mainland far from the sea she loves; on his third visit, Marliner is shot by Jannet and his seal form is revealed. There is only one thing that can stop the fury of the sea and the damage wreaked on the islanders by the angry seals, Eilean tells Jannet, and that is to bring the child home. Going home, for Gioga, however, is returning to the sea from whence she came. In eloquent, descriptive prose, Doherty beautifully re-creates the traditional tales of the selkies. Through the character of Eilean and her strong kinship with the selkies, Doherty brings a mythical quality to the story. Present throughout the text, particularly through the setting, are the seals, the shadowy figures of the selkies, and the sea within whose depths all things might be imagined. Through the technique of telling stories within a story, Doherty shows how integral these tales are to the imagination of those who live where it is said that "men haunt the sea" and "the people of the sea haunt the land." VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P M (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
The author blends Celtic and Icelandic tales in this spare volume. Like many folk tales, the characters are hastily drawn, but they are not meant to be individuals. They are representative types, and in that sense, they are well done. The woman's longing for a child, the child's wish to go back where she belongs, the measured gratitude of the sea king to the mother, all ring true. The beautiful simplicity may be lost on readers who do not normally read folk tales. One problem is that the blending of cultures makes us badly in need of a pronunciation guide. How does one say the name of the main character, Gioga? Do the two n's in Jannet mean that it is not pronounced "Janet"? A quick survey of readers I know in the likely age group for this story showed that many of them imagine someone speaking the words to them as they read, and all stumbled on how they would say "Gioga." In all, it is a sadly sweet and satisfying tale, well worth the telling. KLIATT Codes: JSRecommended for junior and senior high school students. 1997, Dell/Laurel-Leaf, 115p, 18cm, $4.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Frieda Toth; Children's Libn., Crandall P.L., Glen Falls, NY, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8Readers who grew up with repeated viewings of Disney's The Little Mermaid have a richer, darker whale of a tale in store for them. Gioga, named after a mythic sea princess, is rescued by a kindly fisherman and taken home to his barren wife. After convincing the neighbors that she miraculously gave birth to the infant, a joyous celebration is given to welcome the babe. The uninvited guest, Eilean o da Freya, appears prophesying future heartbreak for the family. Neither husband nor wife confides in one another their fears or discoveries (the husband neglects to mention the selkie skin left behind; the wife refuses to tell her husband about the mysterious Hill Marliner's repeated visits to check on the child he claims is his). Readers will be able to smell the salt water and hear the singing, lyrical text: "Waves snapped around him like a pack of wild dogs...waves that would toss his boat like a shell." The emotions ring true in each of the vividly drawn characters. Doherty uses tales from Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland, although exact citations are not given. There are a few unanswered questions: Why did Gioga need a nurse? Did her "real" mother die, or was this an unexplained custom? What exactly was Eilean o da Freya's past? Nevertheless, this is a lovely tale certain to enchant readers of Theodore Taylor's salty sagas and Mollie Hunter's selkie stories. Definitely for graduates of Susan Cooper's The Selkie Girl (McElderry, 1986).Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Doherty (Snake Stone, 1996, etc.) works a generous handful of selkie legends into this somber tale, set on an isolated northern island where "men haunt the sea . . . and it is said that the people of the sea haunt the land."
Caught in a freak storm, a childless fisherman finds a baby floating next to his boat, and brings it home to his wife, Jannet. They name her Gioga and raise her as their own, despite the warnings of a peculiar, seemingly deranged villager, Eilean. Gioga's real father, calling himself Hill Marliner, appears twice to take her back; twice he relents at Jannet's pleading; when Hill Marliner returns a third time, Jannet shoots him. Dead, he becomes a great seal. Wailing with grief, a wave of seals attacks the village's boats and catch, and a wild storm comes up. Sacrificing herself to quiet the storm, Eilean sends Jannet's husband to bring Gioga back, and tells a young villager the location of the sealskin that will allow the child to go back to her people. This is without the emotional impact of Donna Jo Napoli's Zel (1996), another story of a woman loving a child beyond sanity, but those captivated by other selkie tales will find a full measure of magic and mystery here.