Poignant, meaningful, and romantic, Selkie Girl is a lyrical debut about a mesmerizing legend.
ELIN JEAN HAS always known she was different from the others on their remote island home. She is a gentle soul, and can’t stand the annual tradition of killing seal babies to thin the population. Even Tam McCodrun, the gypsy boy to whom she is strangely drawn, seems to belong more than she does.
It’s just a matter of time until Elin Jean discovers the secret of her past: her mother, Margaret, is a selkie, held captive by her smitten father, who has kept Margaret’s precious seal pelt hostage for 16 years. Soon Elin Jean faces a choice about whether to free her mother from her island prison. And, as the child of this unusual union, she must make another decision. Part land, part sea, she must explore both worlds and dig deep inside herself to figure out where she belongs, and where her future lies.
Praise for Selkie Girl…
“Brooks rich prose reverberates with vivid, cinematic images. The author succeeds in conveying the fully fleshed-out characters’ anguish and conflict. This marvelous offering brings to mind Alice Hoffman’s Indigo and Karen Hesse’s The Music of Dolphins. It’s not to be missed.”
—School Library Journal
“Brooks’ coming of age story is full of secrets, teenage angst, fierce longing to belong, dramatic rescues, revenge, and true love. Her tone mimics traditional lore: appropriately dark, moody, and satisfyingly old fashioned.”
“The legend of the selkies is densely imagined and fully embodied in this lyrical narrative… The prose has a Celtic lilt that adds dimension and authenticity. This will have strong appeal for readers who enjoy metamorphic fantasies as well as Celtic mythology.”
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Compelling, compassionate characters and creatively detailed descriptions of the terrain above and below the surface of the sea.”
EXCERPT – Chapter Seven
My hands lie small and naked in Fither’s calloused palms. At first glance they look ordinary, the salty hands of a girl who lives by the sea, but closer inspection reveals the transparent webbing that extends to the first knuckle of each finger. Between my thumb and forefinger, sheer tissue connects the space.
“Fetch my gully knife,” Fither commands, but no one moves.
“It’s no good to cut them,” Mither pleads, the edge in her voice revealing her fear. “They’ll only grow back like always.”
Like always. How many times has Fither cut the webs? The cutting began before I can remember, when the webs were nothing more than tiny flaps of infant skin. Mither has told me they hardly bled at the first cutting and Fither crowed that this would be the end of them. But within a few days, a nearly imperceptible layer of skin reformed between my baby thumb and first finger, red and angry at the insult. Each day, as the webs regenerated, Fither examined their progress, waiting until they were healed when it might be safe to cut them again. But no matter how often he cut them, they always grew back, determined as weeds, and Fither despaired of ridding me of them.
As I grew, the cutting occurred less often, the danger of infection discouraging Fither, until it shrank to a yearly ritual. As another year marked my life, birthdays became a cruel reminder of my deformity. Once, I hardly remember how old I was, Mither could not staunch the flow of blood from the cutting. She stayed with me long into the night, pressing cloths onto the wounds, while Fither paced, muttering unintelligibly to himself.
At dawn I woke to hear my parents engaged in a terrible quarrel. Fither’s voice pierced the morning with shouting. Mither sobbed without restraint. In my box bed I pulled the covers over my head but I could still hear the sounds of their fighting.
Finally, exhausted with accusations and blaming, they fell silent. But tension crowded the house until I thought I would explode from the pressure of it. Eventually they reached an uneasy truce, but a cold distance remained between them. I never knew what transpired, but the ache between my fingers healed into an itch, a constant reminder that it was all because of me.
“You’d have me do nothing!” Fither roars, bringing me back from my reverie. “She’s sixteen now, time to make a good marriage to a crofter with land, home and hearth. She’ll need more than a dowry to fetch a husband.”
Mither lays a calming hand on Fither’s arm as though gentling a wild thing. “Even if you cut her hands clean off, she’ll never be like the others.”
“Who will she be like then?” Fither’s question hangs unanswered, echoing of the four walls that define my life.
I close my eyes and will them to stop arguing.
“I cannot bear to hear the others laugh and make sport of her,” Fither confesses grimly. “I will not stand idle, seeing her married off to some tinker, without a sturdy tub for washing or a strip of land to keep his family fed. Is that what you’d be wanting for our Elin Jean?”
“I’d be wanting her to marry for love,” Mither’s voice is firm, edged with her own barely controlled anger. “I’ve heard tell of one who lost his reason for love, of a crofter who took a stunder to love a lass with nothing but herself to offer. And that was enough.”
Fither’s body sags as though some tightly held strings have been loosened. He walks to the hearth and pokes the burning peat bricks, throwing up a shower of sparks. One thrust is enough to
wake the fire, but Fither jabs them over and over until they dissolve into shreds of glowing coal.
Grandpa breaks the silence. “That pony’ll be wanting to be fed.” He lifts the woolen cap that is his year-round companion from its hook by the door. His back is stooped more than usual as he pulls the cap over his head. Grandpa despises arguments, finding any excuse to avoid them. And he cannot bear the cutting. I think he is afraid of it.
“Don’t run from it, Grandpa,” Mither pleads. “There’s those here who need your help.”
Grandpa sighs. “Dunna cut her, man. There’s naught to be done for it. You cannot change what nature has meant to be.”
A single tear slides down Mither’s face.
This is my fault. I look at my hands, and the webs sneer at me, self-satisfied with their importance. In that moment I hate my hands more than I have ever hated anything, even the others. If I could kill them, I would do it. “Cut them, Fither,” I demand. “I want to be like the others.”
Fither covers the distance to the cupboard in two long strides and lifts the gully knife from its dark interior. He takes the leather strop from its hook and runs the blade at an
angle up and down. It makes a brisk, shushing sound as it slides over the surface of the strap. Shhurt. Shhurt.
A shaft of light glints off the metal and shoots across the room. I lay my hands on the rough-hewn table, fingers spread wide. “It does not hurt too much, Mither.”
“That’s a good lass.” Fither is calm now. His hand hovers over mine, the knife held firmly. “Hold your hands steady. Steady now.”
I am in the North Sea, diving deep into its welcoming embrace. I feel the velvety touch of fishes, whisper-soft, and the quiet thrum of the tides. I hear the door slam, Grandpa escaping into the byre.
Fither positions the knife above my hand. He hesitates.
Giddy God, what is he waiting for?
“Cut them!” I scream.
“No!” Mither wrenches Fither’s arm away and the knife clatters to the floor. “Cutting her hands will not keep her from the sea.” Mither’s face is wild and streaked with tears. Her hair has come loose, a jumble of chestnut streaked with gray. “You cannot shape her to fit your dreams of what’s to come or cut her to fit you like a bit of cloth. Look at her! Can you not see she’s bonny as she is?”
The crofthouse waits, patient as the dust motes that float toward the chimney, as Mither sobs and Fither caresses her tear-streaked face. “There, there, darling one. Don’t cry. I cannot bear to see you cry.”
This gentle treatment from Fither unleashes Mither’s keening, an anguished sound more painful to me than the cutting has ever been. Mither rocks back and forth with the agony of it, her hands fluttering helplessly in the air.
I hear the others laughing, feel their rough hands pulling back my sleeves and the sharp sting of a stone hitting my back, watch a small child run away from me, hear furtive whispering. My life stretches out as jagged and lonely as the sea-battered cliffs of Hoy.
The knife lies on the floor undisturbed until a spark flies up from the fire, breathing momentary life into the cold blade. I reach for it, expecting someone to stop me, but no one does.
The knife feels good in my hand. A calm washes over me.
“I’ll cut them myself!” I cry, and with one downward stroke slash the largest web, and as the first wave of pain sears through me, Mither screams my name. She hastens to staunch the flow of blood. I look at the red droplets that fall on my apron and know that nothing will be the same from this day forward.