This is like The Secret Garden but with mermaids and pirates instead, and with characters that I, at least, liked from start to finish (as a pragmatic child, I found it hard to care for any of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s insipid and annoying creations.) Billed as a sequel to The Little Mermaid, Of Salt And Shore tells the tale of Lampie, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter. Tasked with far too many responsibilities at a young age, she fails to light the great lamp one stormy night, resulting in the breaking of an important ship on the rocks off port. Her father is locked up in the lighthouse as punishment, while she is whisked off to be a servant at The Black House, where a monster supposedly lurks in the tower.
Shy, illiterate Lampie arrives to a household in turmoil, and tries her best to be of help to the overwhelmed housekeeper Martha, as well as to Martha’s silent, hulking son Lenny and to eccentric Nick who hides out in the garden. But what she really wants is to climb up the tower and look out to sea, to make sure that her father is alright and that the lighthouse beacon still glows when it should. She doesn’t believe that there’s a monster hiding up there, despite Martha’s tight-lipped admonitions… until she sneaks into the tower to look out the windows one night and discovers that something vicious is indeed hiding in the shadows.
But Lampie isn’t the kind of girl to let a little feral temper get in the way of making friends. With Lenny’s help, she coaxes out the monster and sets about trying to solve his problems as well as her own. But the return of the Admiral to whom The Black House belongs may have unintended, even life-shattering consequences for all of its inhabitants and the people they love.
This bare bones description of the plot barely scratches the surface of how elegantly written this understated tale is. Younger readers will be charmed by the fairy tale trappings, but adults will appreciate the depictions not only of friends and villains, but also of the difficult relationships our central characters have with abusive fathers and with mothers who left too soon. Ms Schaap is amazing at showing instead of telling, letting her character’s actions speak far more loudly than anything else about them. The nuance, for example, of the Admiral’s handling of his underling restraining Lenny contrasted so brilliantly with the sheriff’s responses in the lighthouse: the Admiral and the sheriff might both be douchebags, but the Admiral isn’t just some small-town bigot with a borderline sadistic need for power. More obviously, the juxtapositions of Lampie and the monster’s thoughts as they muddle towards understanding were achingly realistic, limning the edges of this whimsical tale with both meaning and pathos, like a silver-lined storm cloud of a story.
I was also struck by the way the tale of The Little Mermaid plays out once the yearning sea princess gains everything she thought she ever wanted: it’s only a small part of the book, but it underscores the volume’s quiet feminism, urging our heroes to be their own people and to be brave. I only hope the neighbor gets to go along, too, at the end, and that Nick finds his happy ending, as well. Oh gosh, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to hug so many characters and wish them bon voyage! I definitely want my 9 year-old to read this: he’s currently into tales with brave protagonists and this certainly fits the bill!
Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap (translated so smoothly from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson that I didn’t even realize this hadn’t been written in English till I went to get my Amazon widget below) was published October 13th, 2020 by Charlesbridge Press and is available from all good booksellers, including
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