WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Turning by Emily Whitman
Type: Children’s, Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Basic Idea: Aran is a selkie, a mythical creature that can switch between being a human and a seal. Sadly, for some reason, he isn’t able to. A discovery from his mother leads him on a journey to become like the rest of his friends and family.
Plot: 4/5 Well Done: The story was a pure fairy tale that was a mixture of coming of age, self discovery, and adventure. It definitely had me on the edge of my seat wanting to read more, despite its slightly juvenile theme. It had a slew of characters that had very clear and true to life personalities, having both flaws and strengths.
Writing Style and Setup: 4½/5 Amazing: I have to say that the writing style was just pure pleasure for me. It had beautiful, necessary details at all the right places as well as perfect pacing and reveals. The novel had a lot of progression as well as carefully placed action scenes as needed and that added to the story.
Moral: 2½/5 A Mostly Good Moral and One Bad Influence: The moral of the novel has to do with learning to accept what one was created to be as well as the power of personal choice. The first moral has to do with self acceptance. Aran is a half human, half selkie, and though has some selkie abilities, cannot turn into a seal. This causes him much sorrow until he learns to accept how he was created. He eventually reaches the point where he accepts that though physically different and even a bit handicapped compared to his family, he will be content with what he is given. When he realizes this, he is rewarded with a seal form. The other lesson is one of being able to control yourself. Aron hates his human side and blames it for any anger or lack of control. As he matures through the novel, he concludes that anyone can act savagely (even a selkie), not because they have to, but because they choose to. While it does have a few traces that man is naturally good and chooses to be bad, one should not let that take away from the many true aspects in the book’s morals. The only negative thing I saw, was that characters tended to lie or act deceitfully to other characters without there ever really being any consequences, such as Aran not telling his caretaker he has friends. This was not a moral, but was still a negative thing that could be easily taken from the book.
Overall: 4/5 Well Done: The one word that could be used to sum up this novel is “beautiful.” From its plot to its pacing to its moral, I recommend the novel for lovers of fantasy and fairy tales, both young and old.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 2/5 Suggestive Themes and Nudity: Aron and his seal family are naked in human form, but this is never really talked about or described, merely something that seems to be a fact one has to figure out on their own when Aron shows surprise at learning people wearing clothes. A selkie and a human have a child and live together, though it is never said if they are married or not. She leaves him. There is a folktale of a man forcing a selkie into marrying him by stealing her seal skins. It mentions that selkies usually just mate with another selkie and then leave each other, similar to other animals. It mentions that female selkies in a story were naked. A woman mentions a man having been handsome. One of the things a boy says all a bird can think about is mating.
Violence: /5 Brief Mention: A boy shoves another boy and a . He nearly punches a boy. A woman throws a rock at a dog. A boy attacks sea lions after they toss him around out of fear that they could accidentally kill him. A drowning girl strikes and kicks a boy. In a story, some selkies bite a human to death until he is only bones. A man grabs a boy’s wrist until it bruises. A crab pinches a boy’s arm.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 2/5 Some Light Cursing: The Lord’s name is taken in vain three times, and God’s once. A woman exclaims “Mother of God.” “Hell” is misused twice.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2½/5 Possible Domestic Abuse, Death, and Fear: A woman lies that her husband beats and wants to murder her and her son. A boy has a nightmare about taking off clothes, which causes him to peal off his own skin and bleed. A woman is very sickly with a bad cough, once coughing up blood, and is eventually shocked into a stroke, showing the whites of her eyes. The boy believes for a while that he has accidentally shocked her to death and at another time worries she will die from coughing. A man intimidates and verbally bullies his wife, and he once punches a hole in the wall. A woman talks about her son dying from a fever, and a boy refers to him mentally as “the dead boy.” It mentions animals and selkies getting caught in nets and being killed, once it being told in a story. A boy angrily cuts a net to shreds because of this, thinking about the previous mentioned sentence. Because of this, people wonder if there is a psycho on the loose. A boy and a girl almost drown respectively, and the boy must be given CPR. A boy has tubes and needles in him and takes them out, causing blood to fall on his blankets. A boy thinks how humans have speared, killed, and skinned selkies and seals. A woman warns that the men in her town won’t hesitate to shoot anything or anybody they see strange. A selkie in a story becomes suicidal, but does not let itself die. In a story a man shoots a selkie and its half human son. The cutting and eating of crabs and fish is mentioned. A boy in horror imagines his mom getting capture, sick, or hurt. Characters cry, and tears are mentioned in the past, in stories, and in songs. It mentions spiritual death. There are songs that talk about dangers, and characters mention being careful of getting hurt. A boy uses a word that could mean “gone” or “dead.” A boy is given a pelt that used to belong to a now dead selkie. A boy faints at least three times. A boy gets ready to attack with his fists, knife, and a bottle, but hardly ever does. There is mentioned of there being poison in the water. Characters get sore, cuts, and bruises. A character has a scar, and a man has a painful limp. Characters bleed and worry about attracting sharks. “Bleeding,” “blood,” “boneyard,” “dead snake,” “death,” “hit,” “horror movie,” “flesh,” “scab,” and “slap” are used for descriptive purposes.
Religious Issues: 2½/5 Mythology: Selkies worship the moon as a goddess by singing praises to it, referring to it as “her,” saying things like “Thank the Moon,” making promises by it, trusting it knows things, and praying to it. The characters sing the song of creation, describing how they believe the moon made the world, sayings things like “Hail creation” and “Hail the ocean.” This is considered holy. Chanting and rites are mentioned, and the latter is done, which mainly consists of saying the right things at the right time as is the custom. It is believed the moon has magical powers, and it is obvious that the moon gave Aron his pelt. A boy erroneously thinks something is a gift from the moon. In a story the moon talks to a selkie in a vision. It mentions peaceful men in brown robes worshiped a strange god; these were probably Catholic monks, though it never says. A book mentions ghost ships. Luck is mentioned, and a character is called “lucky.” “Ghost” and “worshipper” are used for descriptive purposes.
Magic: 2/5 Magical Themes and Descriptions: The story revolves around creatures called selkies. Selkies are mythological creatures in certain traditions that are described in the book as being seals that can take off their seal skins and turn into humans with webbed fingers, eat raw fish, and do other seal like things. There are especially wise selkies that live in the north and can use magic, thought they are only talked about in the story by characters who have or have not seen them. A boy briefly thinks a human girl is a sprite and that she is using magic. A woman wonders if she was “under…. [a] spell.” A book mentions mermaids and a fairy tale about a boy riding a turtle. “Fairy-tale,” “magic,” “spell,” “spellbound,” used for descriptive reasons.
Others: A man is an alcoholic, and a boy can often smell the alcohol on him. Once he talks with him when he is drunk. A man in a story had drunk and another man had gone to a pub. A man smokes from a pipe, and a boy smells smoke on a man. A woman lies that she is divorcing her abusive husband. It mentions once that a man played cards. Characters folk dance for fun and to worship the moon, as well as talk about dancing or mention it in stories. A boy has shoulder length, then long hair.
Overall: 2½/5 Older Child Appropriate: Because of the magical and mythological themes; mentioned nudity; and dramatic, violent scenarios I think children eleven to thirteen is a good minimum reading age if one tolerates fantasy and mythology. If one doesn’t, I would not recommend the book at all.