Secrets We Tell the Sea

A 10-year-old girl speaks openly to the sea in this stunning translation from the Spanish by Lourdes Heuer (author of Esme's Birthday Conga Line) of Secrets We Tell the Sea, the Mexican award-winning middle-grade novel by Martha Riva Palacio Obón (Buenas noches, Laika).

Sofía knows everyone was a mermaid before birth--that's why she's always spoken to the sea, though they've never met. They finally do when Sofía is sent by her mom to live in the coastal town of Bahía, where her mom's boyfriend can no longer look at or touch Sofía like a barracuda. But she must instead live with "a full-blown sea dragon" (her grandmother) and face "the nightmare that is switching schools." In class, she meets Luisa, who has "something aquatic about her," with skin "spotted like a jaguar's" due to vitiligo. Just like that, Sofía is friends with another mermaid. Then the sea betrays Sofía, and she stops talking to it, her grief manifesting as storms, typhoons, and hurricanes she doesn't know how to stop.

This profound work of magical realism overlays a girl's real world with the splendors and perils of the sea. Sofía, through Obón's shimmering prose, adopts an oceanic outlook on life (her myriad emotions are "swarming crabs"). Her probing musings tie to that with which she struggles: her mother's choices, her own tendency to stand out as strange. The third-person point of view occasionally dips into other characters' minds with grace, maintaining nautical metaphors to keep the story's mesmerizing spell alive. An exquisite portrait of friendship, loss, healing, and the untamable forces of childhood inquisitiveness, individuality, and insightfulness. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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