Book Review: “Seven Tears at High Tide” by C.B. Lee

Accio Book!

Published 15 October 2015 by Duet
Copy purchased for review

Dive in to Seven Tears at High Tide, the enchanting story of Kevin and Morgan. This magical book puts a new spin on the Scottish mythology of selkies, folk who shift from seal to human. A romantic young adult tale full of beautiful imagery and a blossoming young love that will warm your heart. Debut author C.B. Lee deftly explores issues surrounding race, bisexuality and mixed family dynamics against the sweet summer setting of a Californian sea.

The sea holds many secrets …Kevin Luong walks to the ocean’s edge with a broken heart. Remembering a legend his mother told him, he lets seven tears fall into the sea. “I just want one summer—one summer to be happy and in love.” Instead, he finds himself saving a mysterious boy from the Pacific—a boy who later shows up on his doorstep professing his love. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan is a selkie, drawn to answer Kevin’s wish. As they grow close, Morgan is caught between the dangers of the human world and his legacy in the selkie community to which he must return at summer’s end.

C.B. Lee opens her book with a breathtaking description of the sea itself, conjuring the ebb and flow feeling with detail so vivid you can feel the sea mist on your skin. You can hear the waves in the way she writes, and it is the perfect way to begin this story, at once wistful, romantic, melancholy and hopeful. A half remembered story about shedding seven tears into the sea leads to wishes and a summer of magic.

We learn from the start that Kevin Luong has been out and proud in his local community as being bisexual for over a year, and as such he never felt he would have to hide who he fell for from his peers. He even has the support of his (somewhat over zealous!) parents. But this isn’t true of everyone. Heartbroken by his most recent romance screeching to a halt, Kevin just wants a real connection and puts his wish out to the sea, never guessing that his Request would be granted.

His wish comes in the form of a mysterious boy washed up by the seafront pier. There is a buoyant jubilance to half-human, half-selkie Morgan that will capture your heart from his very first dimpled grin. Capable of reading hearts, Morgan emanates pure love in response to his meeting with Kevin. But this isn’t a simple story of “instalove” with no complications, and Lee puts a delightful spanner in the works as Kevin is adorably baffled by Morgan’s head first approach to human dating and declarations! As they learn more about each other, their bond grows, and the feelings between them strengthen.

There is a great degree of affectionate humor as Morgan slowly learns about the human world, his fascination with colors and slight bemusement by clothes. Kevin’s natural curiosity and deep interest in geology lends itself well to Morgan’s wide-eyed inquisitive venture on to dry land. Lee adds further depth to her story with some beautiful descriptions of the landscape framed in their exploration and adventures.

I was entranced by the sea as a living feeling entity, capable of granting wishes, and as a vital presence, acting as the steadfast confidante of the world. It can pass along a trickle of information, supplying Morgan the knowledge he needs to interpret the human world, though not without some constraints. This device works well to move the plot forward without dwelling to long on exposition, but also becomes a character in and of itself, with a brilliant sense of mystery and longevity.

Lee creates a detailed glimpse at the culture and politics of Morgan’s close knit selkie family, steeped in their own traditions. I loved reading about selkie mythology as a child and Seven Tears at High Tide reminded me of the lovely romance and sadness of the folk tale, transposed from Celtic shores to be set in Piedras Blancas on the Californian coast. The family dynamics at play are very interesting, with the matriarchal Linneth guiding her herd, despite her own heartbreaks.

Kevin’s family also has an intriguing past, his parents both scholars of science, his stepmother having raised him from a young child after his mother’s passing. Lee weaves in a subtle element of microaggressions experienced by young children of mixed race parents, with Kevin who is Asian American Chinese informed he ‘looks different’ to his white stepmother. Morgan’s innocent questioning is a welcome reprieve from the pointed looks on the playground.

The threatening presence of hunters out to discover the secrets of the selkies rocks the romance with peril, as well as a the summer months drawing to a close. It weaves together to make a story that will ultimately sweep you away.

Bold, romantic and magical, Seven Tears at High Tide is perfect for fans of fantasy stories such as The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper and contemporaries like Simon Vs the Homo Sapians Agenda by Becky Albertalli. If you loved the mystery of the Great Lake, swimming with merman and grindylows in Goblet of Fire, this book is for you.