Queer YA Spotlight: The Girl From the Sea

Premise: Fifteen-year-old Morgan nearly drowns one night, but is saved by a beautiful selkie. Convinced that she’s dreaming, Morgan smooches her right on the mouth—and is shocked when said selkie then turns up on her doorstep the next morning, very real and ready to confess her love. This throws a spanner in Morgan’s plans to lay low and stay firmly closeted until she can graduate and leave her tiny island town. But maybe the magic seal-girl from the sea isn’t the only one able to undergo a transformation…

Rainbow rep: an f/f romance, a lesbian protagonist coming to terms with her identity

Content considerations: characters being outed (in a low-stakes, ultimately supportive environment); characters nearly drowning

Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Girl From the Sea is absolutely gorgeous, visually and emotionally. It’s a sweet supernatural romance that, despite its magical aspects, stays very grounded in the emotional reality of being fifteen: ducking your head and trying to get by while expectations hover over you like a flock of hungry seagulls.

The romance between Morgan and her selkie beloved, Keltie, is adorable, and captures the sherbet-sweetness of a first puppy love (seal pup-py love… get it?). Keltie’s disregard for normal human conventions cause hijinks but also give Morgan an avenue to consider that hey, maybe normal human convention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Because Morgan is very concerned with convention, in a way I found very relatable, and in a way that I found the book dealt with interestingly. For Morgan, The Girl From the Sea is technically a coming out story… but it doesn’t quite follow what we might expect the usual rules to be.

Morgan conducts her selkie romance in secret, discreetly avoiding her friends, with whom she’s felt a rift forming every since she realised there was something fundamentally different about their adolescent experiences. Her internal narration fixates on boxes: compartmentalising and neatly packing away the different aspects of her life so they don’t overlap and make mess. Family goes in one, friends and school in another, and her queerness? She’s sealing that box up with packing tape and not opening it until she’s in college. This, she tells the reader emphatically, is The Plan.

But, gently, the narrative unfolds in such a way that makes her (and the reader) reconsider. Morgan is outed by her pesky little brother at the dinner table, and it feels like the end of her careful work packaging her true self away. But her family is supportive in a way that shocks her. Her mum makes a corny joke, and Morgan bursts out laughing and then bursts into tears, in a cathartic scene that was one of my absolute favourites in the whole book. It felt very real, and felt very sweet, seeing all Morgan’s fears wash away as her mother awkwardly comforts her.

A similar situation plays out with Morgan’s friends, who are, in the end, not so much freaked out by Morgan being gay but by the revelation that she’s been having a swoony summer romance right under their noses. Morgan’s relationship with Keltie increases the growing rift between her and her best friend Serena, but the drama there hinges on the secretiveness, not the secret itself. These scenes do a wonderful job showing that being closeted and coming out can still carry massive emotional stakes even if homophobia isn’t part of the narrative.

Morgan feels like she’s different from her friends, and this realisation starts to unravel and fray their close-knit bond. She also feels like she can’t express this difference, as her pretending to be “normal” and “just like them” is the only thing keeping the support network together. That sort of thing weighs on you.

As I’ve mused before, I was oblivious to queerness in my own high school years, but even then I remember how a vague and sickly unease about not doing teen girlhood “right” permeated many of my friendships. It’s so easy to feel nudged outside the circle, and inside the circle is where you want to be, so you bury or sand off odd parts of yourself so you better fit the mould.

Morgan has become, tragically, an expert at this, until Keltie emerges from the waves and shakes up the status quo. It’s rewarding seeing Morgan inch out of her comfort zone and become more confident in herself, repairing her relationships and striding forward into her future with more of a sense of who she is and why that matters. The ending, I’ll warn you, is bittersweet. But oh, it’s lovely.

Selkie tales are timeless folklore, but this feels like a unique twist on them: a uniquely queer story that blends magic with reality in a really rewarding way. The sea is always in motion, and so are we: each undergoing our own transformations, whether they’re as visible as slipping on a seal skin or not. If you want a cute little story that gets to the heart of this, give The Girl From the Sea a shot.

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Filed under Alex Reads

4 responses to “Queer YA Spotlight: The Girl From the Sea

  1. Pingback: The Best Books I Read in 2021 | The Afictionado

  2. My library has this book and I’ll read it as soon as I’m done with one of my books. It looks to be a lovely story!

  3. Pingback: Twenty-Twenty-Gone: December ’21 Roundup | The Afictionado

  4. Pingback: Queer YA Spotlight: Ophelia After All | The Afictionado

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