Content Warning: Eating Disorders

Tides by Betsy Cornwell is not strictly a bisexual book. Instead, it’s a Young Adult Fantasy book about selkies, but by a bisexual author—and it shows.

The main characters, Noah, a student interested in marine biology, Lo, his younger sister with a love for art and an eating disorder, and Mara, a selkie who finds it hard to trust humans after what they’ve done, are all compelling and distinct characters. There’s a fire in Mara that isn’t there in Noah or Lo, and there’s a levelheadedness in Lo that Noah doesn’t have. Noah has a passion for the ocean that Lo just doesn’t have, and Mara has a confidence in herself that Lo doesn’t.

We start out with Noah Gallagher and his sister, Lo Gallagher, coming to stay with their grandmother, Gemm, on a collection of islands. These islands are mostly uninhabited and very small; Gemm lives there because she’s the lighthouse keeper. Off of one of the islands is the research center of one Professor Foster, and this is the man that Noah looks up to and is doing an internship for.

Things are tense between Noah and Lo. While we never meet their parents, we get the impression they are somewhat controlling and hard to live with at times, at the least. Lo’s eating disorder seems to stem from when she was tiny and just adopted from China, and referred to as a very chubby baby. Of course, the true reasons run much deeper, as they do in real life, but it’s clear her disgust with her body is a manifestation of a lack of control in her life, and that’s something that Noah has a very hard time understanding or empathizing with.

These sibling issues are presented in a way that allows the reader to empathize with both characters, because they come across in a very realistic way. Noah doesn’t know how to help Lo, and his helplessness comes across as callous and is often counterproductive. Similarly, Lo’s internal processes are very accurate, including doing rituals to try not to think of food and knowing how terrible it is for her, but having great difficulty stopping. In the beginning, her art is partly a way to distract her from hunger pangs.

And then there are the selkie. A selkie is a creature of Northern European myth, ranging from Ireland to Iceland to Scandinavia. She or he is a human like creature that is also a seal, and can switch from one to the other by either putting on or taking off their sealskin. The tales also mention that the way to capture a selkie is by taking their skin, and these stories have been around for centuries.

In Tides, the selkies are a small pod, and only three of them are adults or near adults; Mara seems to be about teenage, but age for a selkie is a bit different than a human. They only age when they turn to human, and so they are frequently much older than humans, despite their appearance being otherwise.

Maebh is their elder, and turns out to also be Gemm’s significant other, possibly wife, depending on how you’d take it. She’s stayed behind while the rest of the pod has left half out of fear, and half out of not wanting to leave Gemm. She is the reason that Gemm left Noah and Lo’s grandfather, and also why their mother describes Gemm as "selfish".

The reaction to finding out about Maebh is one that I find highly realistic. Lo is absolutely delighted to find out her grandmother isn’t alone, even if she is somewhat surprised to find out her grandmother is attracted to women for an instant or two. Noah is somewhat more shocked, but is still positive about it—at the time, he’s a bit more focused on the fact that selkies are real.

As more casual representation, this book is very good, and an excellent one for children. Not every character needs a huge "coming out" fanfare and, in fact, it’s not how things typically go in real life. I also find Lo and Noah’s acceptance, considering that Maebh is a woman, as a nonissue to reflect a lot of teen and young adults today.

The book also has a scene of Gemm and Maebh as teenagers which is more than enough to make anyone’s heart melt—and also break. Their romance is taken seriously and is an important thread in the tale.

The book culminates in not only Mara and Noah’s romance, but in rescue, in danger, and in learning to be brave and strong. For a debut novel, this is a fantastic read and one I would recommend for adults and teens alike.

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Bisexual writer with a strong interest in understanding people.