#IMWAYR: The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
I hope you all are holding up well! I'm writing this review on Saturday afternoon, not Saturday night—that's how you know I'm relatively organized right now. (I used to have these done way earlier in the week, but this year, college has thrown a real wrench in that.)
Also, as a judge for the Cybils Awards, I wanted to remind everyone that you have through Friday, October 15 to nominate your favorite kidlit books for the awards! You can see the details here—I highly encourage you all to take a look and suggest some books for consideration!
Now I just need to figure out what to nominate... (Update on Sunday night: I submitted my first nomination, and you can expect to hear about it on the blog in the coming weeks!)
Anyway, today I am recommending an absolutely fabulous YA graphic novel: The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag. And I'll warn you, I just wrote a paragraph where I said I would "briefly" discuss something and then had to go back and delete that word because it was misleading. So this might be a ramble-y review.
One quick note: The Girl From the Sea is YA, but apart from some innuendo so mild even I'm not sure it was actually innuendo, and the fact that Keltie is technically but not visibly naked in one scene (she literally lives in the ocean, after all), I don't think there is anything objectionable in here for MG readers—this is pretty clean as far as romances go!
Some background for Molly Knox Ostertag: besides being married to another one of my favorite cartoonists, ND Stevenson (which I only mention because it brings me joy that such a power couple exists in the world), Ostertag is the author of an AMAZING gender-norm-breaking MG graphic novel trilogy that I read in February: The Witch Boy, The Hidden Witch, and The Midwinter Witch. And yet, despite how much I loved those books, I let this book linger on my shelves when it came out in August. But a nudge from the wonderful Sue Jackson at Book By Book compelled me to try this story—and why in the world did it take me so long???!!! This book is fantastic—let me tell you about it.
Things have been difficult for Morgan Kwon lately. Her parents are divorced, and her younger brother is acting out as a result, leaving Morgan unsteady in her family’s home by the cliffs of an island. Morgan is just counting down the days before she can leave home and live her life according to a secret she hasn’t even shared with her tight-knit friend group: she’s gay. But then Morgan meets Keltie. Keltie is sweet and adventurous, and she brings out the best in Morgan…and yeah, Morgan thinks she’s pretty cute too. But Keltie is also-maybe-possibly a magical creature from the sea, and as you might guess, that does make things complicated. As secrets come to light, Morgan and Keltie have to figure out their relationship…but real life doesn’t disappear, and along the way, Morgan has to figure things out with her family, her friends—and herself too.
As I mentioned, this book is SO GOOD!!! Oh my goodness gracious, I cannot wait to talk about this one—the only question is whether I can remember all of the things I wanted to discuss. Let's start off with Morgan and Keltie. You'd think that a magical girl from the sea might possibly steal the thunder from the human protagonist of a book, and yet Morgan 100% holds her own in the "battle" (obviously not really a battle—they're in love) between her and Keltie. With incredibly rich and realistic emotions, some neat interests, and a personality Ostertag describes in the back matter as neat and in control (my kind of person), Morgan grabs the reader by the heartstrings and pulls them along through this fantastic story. But let's not forget Keltie—and how could we, anyway? She's literally a magical girl from the ocean who is a delight as well. Keltie doesn't quite understand human culture, and she speaks in a manner that is just slightly mystical and eloquent—not enough to be bothersome, but enough that she doesn't sound like the modern-day teenagers in this story. And she's also got a fascinating magical backstory that gets explored pretty well considering this book leans toward realistic fiction and away from the fantasy side of things. Amidst the scenic island where Morgan's family had put down roots, Morgan and Keltie develop a truly wonderful relationship. Yes, there's conflict, and secrets, and struggles, but there's also utter adorableness, amazing gifts, and an ability to bring out the best in each other. I won't give it all away, but it's so good. And what's also so good is that this book doesn't set up romance as the be-all-end-all (or is it end-all-be-all?). This book is also a journey of self-discovery for Morgan, as you'll see in the subsequent paragraphs of this review. And that's my favorite type of romance in books—the kind that is joyous and lovely, but doesn't turn toxic and weird as one person gets weirdly dependent on the other to fill the void in their life. Morgan can fill her own voids, thank you very much—as you'll see if you read the book.