Deep Water | Lu Hersey | Usborne | ISBN: 978-1409586104
One day, teenager Danni’s hands start leaking water. And when her mum vanishes, she moves to a tiny Cornish fishing village with her Dad – where the locals treat her like a monster. As the village’s dark past bubbles to the surface, Danni discovers that she’s not who – or what – she thought she was. She is in fact a selkie, initiated into her family’s ancient tradition of shapeshifting by her Cornish grandmother in a cave under the house.
Hersey’s writing embraces the natural magic of the Cornish landscape and transports the reader there, smelling the sea air and trailing fingertips along rough stone walls along with young Danni. The parts of the story where the main character is a seal, swimming underwater, are of especial brilliance: anyone who has done shamanic journeying and experienced or studied shapeshifting will appreciate the sensual detail of the experience.
This is a coming-of-age story, but also one of transition and belonging. Danni’s family of selkies are a historic part of her Cornish village, yet are themselves victimised by a local vicar and part of a long-running feud with another local family. Hersey also posits older folk magic alongside the modern, accessible version, as seen in Danni’s father’s shop, full of new age trinkets: a foil to the magical reality of Danni’s emerging self. I enjoyed the message that things defined as “new age” aren’t about pretty shopping opportunities but in fact are “ancient-age”: old truths and lessons, and ways of becoming and being with nature. Danni is a modern girl doing modern girl stuff – falling in love, having a laugh with her friends and worrying about her family but like us all, she’s also living with something deep and mysterious.
This Young Adult novel is, like many in the genre, suitable for teens but also a great read for adults. I’d highly recommend this magical and thoughtful book, redolent with Cornwall’s witchcraft heritage and written by a magical practitioner, lending it authenticity and grace.