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Book Reviews

Review: “Tides,” Betsy Cornwell

April 7, 2014
Review: “Tides,” Betsy CornwellTides (Tides #1)
Written by Betsy Cornwell
Published June, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
304 pages
Genres: Mermaids / Selkies
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two-stars

When high-school senior Noah Gallagher and his adopted teenage sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don’t expect much in the way of adventure.

Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even to vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then things take a dramatic turn for them both when Noah mistakenly tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning.

Full of great Selkie mythology, Tides was a promising read which also dared to tackle a lot of different issues such as same-sex relationships, bulimia and torture. While it was a book I was able to quickly read, I couldn’t find myself becoming attached to the main characters (or their relationship) and was constantly jarred by the changing of narrators.

I really wanted to like Tides. I love the selkie mythology and always adore to read about them when a YA author (very rarely) takes them on board for their novel. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get behind this one as much as I wanted to.

First of all, I really loved the relationship between Noah and Lo’s grandmother Dolores and the selkie Elder Maebh. For me, their relationship was a bright spark in the murky waters. I loved reading their history and felt such a connection between them – more so than the integral characters of Noah and Mara. If the book had been about their adventures and their meeting entirely, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Another thing Betsy Cornwell really did get right was the selkie mythology. It’s not the most glamourous of fantasies and its not as elegant as beautiful, long-haired mermaids, but it’s utterly fascinating and unique. I felt that the scenes dealing with Mara, Maebh and Ronan’s selkie heritage were really well handled and intriguing.

As for the characters; our main man Noah was just flat and dull and I couldn’t bring myself to like him an ounce. I don’t know what it was about him, he was just boring to me. Even when he narrated I struggled to find some sort of depth to him or see WHY he cared so much for Mara. It seemed that he was just going through the motions and I never really ‘felt’ what he felt.

Mara was alright, but her personality was too abrasive for me to really connect with her. Her feelings for Noah seemed to be a little unfounded to me, but I suppose I could believe her more than I could believe Noah. The human world was still a novelty to Mara and Noah happened to be the first person she could share her life and secrets with.

Mara’s brother Ronan was interesting, but we didn’t really get to see much of him. I believe the next book is told from his point of view. I may pick it up as I did really adore the selkie mythology and Betsy Cornwell seems to be exploring it a bit more in Ronan’s upcoming quest to find the rest of their pod in Ireland – and YAY, Ireland.

Lo was probably my second favourite character and I admired how much she grew and began to accept herself throughout the events in Tides. I’m still struggling to understand what sort of place a really heavy bulimia storyline has in a selkie story, but it certainly added more depth to her character.

As mentioned, the chapters constantly change POV’s throughout the handful of characters. At times it was unexpected and I didn’t go into this book thinking there would be more than two POV’s (Noahs and possibly Mara’s). I found that I had to constantly re-align myself with the story and settle into the new character’s voice.

The dangers that the group faced towards the end of the novel were very real and it bugs me that two grown women would send off the teens to sort it out without even an offer of aid. I do understand that it was kind of a ‘rite of passage’ for Mara to become Elder, but the villain (I won’t give away too much here) was torturing the captured selkie children and willing to HURT/KILL to protect his work and himself.

All in all, there were a lot of things that simply rubbed me the wrong way about this book – but there were also small gems I enjoyed. I just couldn’t connect with Tides or feel personally invested in the main relationship or plights of its characters. I didn’t feel a ‘part’ of the story, rather I felt like I was watching from afar or hearing about it from another person.

Recommended to: If you’re intrigued by selkie mythology, give this one a go. I will be taking a look at Compass when it comes out, to see if it focuses more on the things I enjoyed about Tides.

About Betsy Cornwell

Betsy Cornwell wrote her first novel, 'Tides', as a student at Smith College. After graduating from Smith and getting an MFA from Notre Dame, she moved to Ireland to live with the fairies.

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