Sea Hearts by Margo Lanaghan has been on my list for a while. I picked up my signed copy at her book launch for Zeroes (co-authored with Scott Westerfeld and Deborah Biancotti) ages ago and vaguely remembered someone telling me to pay attention to the names at the start of each section. That’s my advice I’m passing on to you.
Sea Hearts is a shortlisted book for the Children’s Book Council of Australua and even though it’s categorised as Young Adult, it will appeal to adult readers as well. As part of my current writing challenge, this one filled the category of a body of water included in the book title, and I eagerly got stuck into it on my walks to and from work.
Lanagan’s Sea Hearts is a wonderful novel about a town that scorns a magical girl who ends up teaching them all a lesson they’ll never forget. We get to see Misskaella from multiple perspectives. From Daniel, a young boy who fears the crazy, scary witch who sits on the beach weaving blankets of seaweed, to Misskaella’s own point of view as a child growing up into a young woman. Because of this, I was sympathetic to Misskaella and almost a little gleeful when she curses her town to her own benefit.
Like most children, I grew up fascinated with stories about mermaids and sea monsters, but by far my most favourite was about silkies. Silkies are seals that shed their skins to reveal young, beautiful women. Without their skins, they’re unable to return to the sea, and often they are stolen by men who wish to marry them. Most of these stories end tragically (or at least it seems to for the men) when the women find their skins and abandon their husbands and children because the pull of the sea is too great. As a child, the silkie’s capture was often overlooked. The focus was on the man falling deeply in love with her unearthly beauty, but in Sea Hearts, Lanaghan delves deep into the consequences of this desire and how it can destroy families.
It’s a caricature of a town. The cruelty of children. The bitterness of women whose sole role is to marry and have babies. The selfishness of men who place their own wants above all else. Portraying multiple generations who are ensorcelled by Misskaella’s powers, we get to see the fallout and the slow move towards redemption, and I’ve got to say, I enjoyed every bit of it.
Would highly recommend.