Selkie Girl

Selkie Girl

3.6 3
by Laurie Brooks

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ELIN JEAN HAS always known she was different from the others on their remote island home. She is a gentle soul, and can’t stand the annual tradition of killing seal babies to thin the population. Even Tam McCodron, the gypsy boy to whom she is strangely drawn, seems to belong more than she does.

It’s just a matter of time until Elin Jean discovers the


ELIN JEAN HAS always known she was different from the others on their remote island home. She is a gentle soul, and can’t stand the annual tradition of killing seal babies to thin the population. Even Tam McCodron, the gypsy boy to whom she is strangely drawn, seems to belong more than she does.

It’s just a matter of time until Elin Jean discovers the secret of her past: her mother, Margaret, is a selkie, held captive by her smitten father, who has kept Margaret’s precious seal pelt hostage for 16 years. Soon Elin Jean faces a choice about whether to free her mother from her island prison. And, as the child of this unusual union, she must make another decision. Part land, part sea, she must explore both worlds and dig deep inside herself to figure out where she belongs, and where her future lies.

Poignant, meaningful, and romantic, Selkie Girl is a lyrical debut about a mesmerizing legend.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Michael Jung
Elin Jean always knew she had a special relationship with the sea. Born with webbed hands that caused her to be seen as a freak on her island home, she has always felt more comfortable swimming with the seals than playing with the children. They call her "Selkie Girl" after the mythological half-human, half-seal creatures, and even her attraction to gypsy boy Tam McCodrun cannot quell Elin Jean's longing for the sea. Upon turning sixteen, Elin Jean learns a shocking truth—her mother actually is a selkie, and she is being held captive by Elin Jean's selfish father, who stole her magical seal pelt. When Elin Jean finds the pelt, she returns it to her mother. The selkie reverts to her true form and swims away. Feeling abandoned, Elin Jean follows her mother into the sea and becomes a selkie herself, albeit one with human fingers that mark her as an outsider. While searching for her mother, Elin Jean spends a year with the selkies, learning about their culture and trying to understand where she belongs—on the land or in the sea. When Elin Jean's father begins slaughtering seals to punish his wife for leaving him, the girl knows what she must do: protect her adopted family. As the islanders prepare for the cull—a bloody tradition where men kill baby seals to thin the population—Elin Jean joins the selkies on their annual birthing journey to the beach. There, she must make peace not only with her mixed heritage, but also between the humans and selkies. How Elin Jean stops the cull will surprise readers. First-time novelist Laurie Brooks' story takes the traditional tragic tale of selkies who abandon their human children and transforms it into a hopeful tale ofself-acceptance and belonging. Reviewer: Michael Jung
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

An extraordinary, beautifully written tale about belonging, love, and the laws of nature. Sixteen-year-old Elin Jean lives in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland and is magnetically drawn to the sea. She knows she is different because of the webbing between her fingers that regenerates if it is cut. Though her father loves her mother, their relationship is tarnished by a mysterious underlying discord. He is determined to make Elin a normal girl by repeatedly cutting the webbing while her mother desperately tries to shield her from pain. Her compassionate grandfather pushes her to discover the truth for herself. Elin is attracted to Tam, a Gypsy boy in town. Her physical strangeness and his heritage set them apart from those around them, but perhaps this helps bring them together. By chance, Elin finds a seal skin hidden above a door in her house and learns the truth about her origins. The discovery is simultaneously freeing and burdensome. Brooks's rich prose reverberates with vivid, cinematic images. The author succeeds in conveying the fully fleshed-out characters' anguish and conflict. This marvelous offering brings to mind Alice Hoffman's Indigo (2002) and Karen Hesse's The Music of Dolphins (1996, both Scholastic). It's not to be missed.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Kirkus Reviews

Life on Shapinsay Island in the Orkneys is tough for Elin Jean. Her strange, webbed fingers and mysterious family history unsettle the other islanders, who shun her cruelly. On the cusp of womanhood, she worries that no will ever love her, and she struggles to define herself as something other than a freak. When Elin Jean discovers her mother's selkie pelt hidden in the rafters and returns it, she frees her mother from her earthly prison but loses her to the sea, thus forcing herself to make a series of difficult choices. Eventually, Elin Jean arrives at "the knowin' "—a better understanding of herself and her place in the world. The antiquated language, a product of either geographic isolation or the unnamed time period, and a few scenes of grisly violence might be off-putting to some readers. But Brooks, a playwright making her novelistic debut, ultimately pulls off this retelling of the selkie myth with compelling, compassionate characters and creatively detailed descriptions of the terrain above and below the surface of the sea. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 8.07(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Heart beating hard, breath ragged and sharp as thorns, I run toward the beach, where all the world is water, calm and safe and whole. Blood pumps through my legs as I jog down the path, and the wind, not to be outdone, races with me. The damp of sea spray stings my face, but I welcome it. The sound of water playing on the shore feels like home.

My feet splash in the shallow ripples that wash up blue-green seaweed, cold but woolen soft, dark and deep with secrets. I stand knee-deep in the sea, content. Breathing slowly, until my heart quiets and my eyes clear, I search the horizon.

The selkies are nowhere in sight.

I shove back the annoying curls that cover my eyes and scan the shoreline to the rocky cliffs. The day is unexpectedly clear. I can see for miles. Even through the mist, the tip of the skerry winks at me. Visible only at high tide, it points a stony finger out to sea, the final extension of the island.

I begin to run again, and the pounding of my feet drums a rhythm in the sand that keeps time with the waves.

I know they will come. I know they will come.

Could I have missed them? What if they were looking for me and I wasn't here? Devil take those annoying chores.

I know they will come. I know they will come.

What if they think I forgot them? As if such a thing is possible. I've thought of little else all year.

The sand gives way to slippery boulders, jagged in disarray, as though they have been thrown in anger by some huge hand. Perhaps they were the expression of some giant's temper, once upon a time. Oh, to have the power to hurl such boulders, to hear the crack and crunch of stone meeting stone at the water's edge. That would make them listen, and I would change everything.

I squint across the ocean's surface, hoping for some sight of them. My hand has found its way to my mouth, and I feel a single sliver of fingernail that I've somehow overlooked. One quick bite and it is gone. Mither tells me it is a horrible habit, but I can't help it. Besides, I never bite my fingernails when anyone else is around. It draws too much attention to my hands.

I carefully arrange the extra-long lace sleeves Mither has sewn onto my dress to cover my hands. Gathering the extra fabric in my fists, I settle myself on a huge boulder worn smooth by the pounding waves. It thrusts out over the sea, a flat extension rounded into a hollow with a curved backrest, just right for perching above the waves. I have named it Odin's Throne, in homage to the great Viking god of war.

Here I can dream undisturbed, high above the concerns of the others. I wonder who else has sat here as I do, dreaming of other worlds; a young woman who traveled with the Pictish armies that invaded from the south or perhaps a Viking warrior once rested here. I close my eyes and imagine his approach in a huge carved ship, sails filled with the frigid north wind. I stand with the warriors, leaning into the hard gale.

But I am not a killer. I am not like the others. I am glad not to be a destroyer of innocent creatures.

I think of the latest argument with Grandpa, and my forehead wrinkles into a frown. Why is he so stubborn? Why won't he listen to me?

"We must stop the cull," I told him. "Why don't they call it what it is—the kill? The selkies have a right to survive, as we all do."

I pictured the yearly birthing of the selkie pups, the beach littered with their bodies, white and new, the darker forms of their mithers nestled nearby. The pups must be born on land and suckled for six weeks until they are old enough to swim. But many never have the chance to reach the safe harbor of the sea. Before the pups are old enough to be led into the water, the island men gather for the cull in the cover of fog where the helpless babies lie on the beach with their mithers. The men raise their clubs over and over, bringing them sharply down on the heads of the pups, killing them one by one. A well-placed blow to the head is all it takes, and the pure white of their coats is stained red with blood. A hundred pups die before the killing is over, the beach transformed into a crimson graveyard. By the time Midsummer arrives, the rain and the ocean damp have washed away all traces of the slaughter and the beach is pristine again, as though the cull never happened. The others can have their Johnsmas Foy without giving a thought to the killing that took place only weeks before.

"Some pups survive," Grandpa argued. "No one wants the selkies to die out completely."

"No?" I answered him. "They have a strange way of showing it."

Each year as the cull approaches, I make my argument, and each year Grandpa calmly explains to me why the seal babies have to die. "Selkies are greedy creatures, you see, and hardy, too, with few natural enemies. If we didn't kill some of the wee ones, there'd be so many they'd eat all the fish. We'd have no herring to fill our nets. And with no herring, we'd starve. It's a question of survival, Elin Jean."

"We could eat bread and vegetables," I always counter. "That'd be food enough. We are the greedy ones, killing the selkies to have all the herring for ourselves."

"The selkie pups must die, and that's the way of it. Always has been the way of it."
I care nothing for the way of it. I only want the selkies to be safe. "It's wrong to kill defenseless babies. I don't care what you say."

Meet the Author

Laurie Brooks is a playwright whose work includes The Wrestling Season, a young adult play. This is her first novel. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Selkie Girl 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
sadie_leona More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I bought this book without flipping through it - I just went on the cover. After reading it, you realize what the cover is for - for attracting readers to this colorful and intriguing story. I won't go into plot lines in the review, but it really is a wonderful story. It has very few wandering points or pages that make you just want to flip through to get it over with. I found myself re-reading chapters and pages to get every little detail I could.

Bottom Line: A quick, fantastic read to be shared between everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago