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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Spotlight on MSBA: The Girl from the Sea

This week kicks off a series of posts spotlighting some of the books featured on this year's Maine Student Book Award list. To discover more about other books from this year's list, check out these past blog posts about Bree Paulsen's charming graphic novel Garlic & the Vampire and the picture book masterpiece The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson.

Every year, a committee of teachers and librarians from across Maine (this one included), read through hundreds and hundreds of books for young readers to craft a final list of forty titles that students in grades 4 through 8 across the state can read throughout the school year. It's an exciting announcement each spring as we find out which book captured the most young hearts and minds throughout Maine when students vote for their favorites! You can find the award and voting process and the list for the 2022-2023 Maine Student Book Award here. Follow the links at the end of this post to request any of this year's MSBA books from our catalog.

While some of the books on the list are geared toward younger readers, others range more toward the young adult age range. In honor of Pride Month, today's look is at Molly Knox Ostertag's young adult graphic novel The Girl from the Sea, which follows fifteen-year-old Morgan as she grapples with the secret of exploring her sexuality. It's not just any coming of age story, though; she gets a little push in her journey of discovery from a selkie named Keltie. At fifteen years old, Morgan is desperate to leave the island where she lives with her mother and brother so that she can craft her own destiny. She feels stifled not only by her family and the island's boundaries but also by the disconnect she feels from her friends, because she can't tell them the secret she's holding in: that she's questioning her sexuality. The secret becomes even harder to keep when the mysterious (and cute) Keltie saves Morgan from drowning and suddenly brings not only an element of magic but also one of attraction to Morgan's life. Morgan finds Keltie's quirkiness pretty adorable, but there's more to their connection. Keltie encourages Morgan to pursue her creative fashion instincts and prompts her in another way, too. As Morgan is fraught with worry over her attraction to girls and how she can admit it to others, Keltie doesn't quite understand, because, as she says, in the ocean, you just are what you are. The innocence with which Keltie introduces her world view is eye-opening. If the creatures of the sea aren't judging each other, why do we need to?

As Morgan sinks into her struggles, she lashes out at her family and detaches from her increasingly distant friends. While not every coming out story can have a happy ending of universal acceptance (and you'll have to read The Girl from the Sea to see quite how this one pans out), this graphic novel offers a heartening perspective on the kind of understanding that is possible in a moving scene with Morgan's mom. Morgan is worried that her love for Keltie will upset others, but Morgan's mom firmly and lovingly tells her daughter that who you love is never a burden on other people. Those aren't decisions you make for others; you make them for yourself, regardless of what anyone else might think. It doesn't mean Morgan's story is easy, but The Girl from the Sea offers hope amidst humor and a whole lot of teenage angst. Check this one out to get started on the MSBA list!


Maine Student Book Award

Combined 2022-2023 Reading List

Applegate, Katherine. Willodeen.

Bacon, Lee. Imaginary.

Bailar, Schuyler. Obie is Man Enough.

Baron, Chris. The Magical Imperfect.

Bowling, Dusti. Across the Desert.

Chan, Maisie. Danny Chung Sums It Up.

Culley, Betty. Down to Earth.

Durham, David Anthony. The Shadow Prince.

Fagan, Deva. Nightingale.

Fipps, Lisa. Starfish.

Fox, Janet S. Carry Me Home.

Freeman, Megan E. Alone.

Guerrero, Tanya. All You Knead is Love.

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista.

Hoyle, McCall. Stella.

Lawrence, Iain. Deadman’s Castle.

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes.

Ostertag, Molly. The Girl From the Sea.

Parks, Amy Noelle. Summer of Brave.

Paulsen, Bree. Garlic & the Vampire.

Pineiro, Victor. Time Villains.

Rosenberg, Madelyn. One Small Hop.

Roux, Madeleine. No Humans Allowed.

Smith, Matthew Ross. The Million Dollar Race.

Sorosiak, Carlie. Leonard (My Life as a Cat).

Swinarski, Claire. The Kate in Between.

Uss, Christina. Erik Vs. Everything.

Venable, Colleen A. Katie the Catsitter.

Walker, Angharad. The Ash House.

Zhao, Katie. Last Gamer Standing.

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