Tides by Betsy Cornwell: A Fresh Take on an Underwater Fairytale

TidesI’ve been looking forward to reading Tides, by new author Betsy Cornwell for a long time. If you read my interview with Betsy, from earlier this week, you will know that we both attended Smith College at the same time. I even had (at least) one class with her. When I heard she was publishing a book I felt super excited, which was kind of funny because we by no means knew each other well but I remembered her as being intimidatingly smart. I wasn’t sure if being able to make hyper-intelligent comments on a Tennyson poem would translate into writing a great young adult book. But after only a few chapters I discovered that in this case it absolutely did. 

Most summaries will tell you that Tides tells the story of siblings Noah and Lo, who go to stay with their grandmother in Maine while Noah has a marine biology internship and Lo tries to get control over an eating disorder. Everything changes when Noah tries to save an apparently drowning girl on the beach. These summaries are true. All of these things happen in the book. However you will find many more stories between the pages of Tides. I loved that the book was told in the third person through so many different character’s points of view. As a writer I know this is no easy task, but Cornwell pulled it off masterfully.

The book contains a really innovative mix of traditional selkie folklore and contemporary teen issues. It was really refreshing to read about the really hard struggles of growing up (body image, sexuality, isolation, uncertainty) portrayed with a light touch, instead of over dramatizing as many YA novels are apt to do. There is also a really interesting LGBT angle that adds to the uniqueness of the story. Most of all though I think the strengths of the book are interesting characters and the perfect mix of intelligent and readable prose. I love reading something that is very well done, but not too dense or demanding.

Tides works perfectly well as a stand alone novel, but I am holding out hope that there will be a sequel in the near future. If you are a fan of selkies, or fairytales in general, I think Tides is definitely a must read. I can especially imagine a certain charm in reading this book at the beach this summer. I didn’t know a thing about selkies when I started the book, but I don’t think that harmed my reading experience one bit. In fact, I definitely feel like it inspired another trip to the aquarium soon!

For further reading and reviews check out:

  • Betsy’s Blog and her tumblr (I’m a little bit in love with her tumblr, such a good mix of feminism and fairytales. 
  • This Book Review from Kirkus Reviews
  • This Book Review from Birth of a New Witch
  • An interview with Betsy on YA Avengers
  • This Book Review from YA Reads
  • An excerpt from the book on Selkie Reads Stories

14 thoughts on “Tides by Betsy Cornwell: A Fresh Take on an Underwater Fairytale

  1. Sounds like a YA book and author to keep an eye on. And how cool that you both went to school together!

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