cover image Seal Child

Seal Child

Sylvia Peck. HarperCollins Publishers, $12.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-688-08682-4

Improvising on the Celtic legend of the selkies--seals that take on human form--Peck has created an uneven but stylish first novel. Lured by the plaintive cries of a seal pup near her family's Maine cottage, young Molly stumbles over the gruesome remains of its butchered mother. Later, a mysterious girl shows up at Molly's elderly friend Ruby's house, a girl named Meara with glossy dark hair and odd ways. Readers will guess Meara's secret (she is a selkie) long before Molly does, but that won't spoil the bittersweet ending, in which Meara makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the life of her beloved new friend. Peck's prose doesn't always ring true--the first-person narrative clashes somewhat with the haunting, lyrical mood she's trying to create--and there are a few cliches (the wise elderly grandmother figure, for one). Nevertheless, Peck displays an eye for imagery (Molly's little brother Douglas looks at Meara ``the way he looked at the candles on his birthday cake when he loved them too much to blow them out''), and proves herself a writer to watch. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 9-up. (Oct.)