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The Girl From The Sea | Review

Cover of The Girl from the SeaThe Girl From The Sea
Writer/artist: Molly Knox Ostertag
Scholastic; $24.99

No matter how diligently one might attempt to plan one’s life, there are some things that just can’t be planned for. Falling off a sea cliff, bumping one’s head on a rock, and nearly drowning, for example. Meeting a mythological sea creature, for another. Falling in love, for a third. All three happen in rapid succession to 15-year-old Morgan Kwon in Molly Knox Ostertag’s winning YA romance, The Girl From The Sea.

Morgan likes girls, a fact she keeps secret from her friends and family so as not to upset the delicate balance of her current life. She has a nice and supportive friend group, which Ostertag introduces us to through a careful reproduction of a text-thread that the comics medium supports quite nicely, but she just feels she can’t always be herself around them, in part because of her big secret.

Her family life is a bit more fraught: Her parents are separated, and she lives with her sad, defeated-acting mother and bitter, volatile little brother.

Her plan is to keep the part of herself that likes girls a secret from everyone for just a few more years, then move away to college and begin her life for real. But then she’s rescued from drowning by a mysterious girl from the sea who she proceeds to kiss.

The next morning, that girl comes tottering over to Morgan’s house on brand-new legs with a quite a story: Her name is Keltie, and she’s a selkie, a part-time seal, part-time humanoid who guards the island seal population and is only able to assume her human form and come on land once every seven years. Morgan’s kiss intertwined their destinies, she says and, like in the old fairy tales of crane wives and other animal-women brides, she gives her seal skin to Morgan, who thus controls her destiny to some extent.

The situation presents all kinds of new stresses for Morgan, from comedic scenes in which she tries to cover for her almost literal fish-out-of-water new friend who seems to have appeared from nowhere, to much more serious ones—after all it’s a lot harder to hide the fact that you like girls when you have a girlfriend.

Morgan still tries to stubbornly cling to her plan, keeping not only Keltie’s otherworldly nature a secret from her friends and family, but also keeping secret the fact that she has a new summer romance. It all comes to a head when Morgan discovers Keltie is not without a secret of her own, and an unforeseen conflict exists between one of Morgan’s old friends and her brand-new more-than-a-friend. It turns out that she has much less control over her own life than she thought, or would even like, but, well, that is life.

As much as The Girl From The Sea has in common with a certain genre of classic fairy tales, it also shares some qualities with teen movies—particularly in its structure, with its dramatic climax at a big party—a fact that Morgan alludes to herself when she says, “Everyone thinks we’re this group like you’d see in a teen movie from the nineties.”

It turns out to be a pretty perfect blend of pop and literary, a coming-out and coming-of-age story that probably could have been told in prose or on film, but not told nearly as well or as immersively as in comics.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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