Seven Tears at High Tide is one of those books that, despite how quick of a read it feels, there's a lot to say about the story between its pages. I thought it would appropriate, with Valentine's Day a mere two days away, to share my thoughts on this adorably relatable, summer-love story. But first, the anecdote about how I came across this work.
C.B. Lee is newly published author, and Seven Tears at High Tide is her debut novel. Duet, the imprint of Interlude Press that published Lee's book is a small imprint, and Seven Tears falls into both YA and LBGT+ genres. Because I'm still attempting to navigate the world of YA, I can't make an entirely informed judgment call on how common LBGT+ stories are within the genre, but what I can say is this: when I was part of the targeted demographic for YA novels, I never read about queer characters. So, for me, in my experiences, the variety of LBGT+ novels available today is impressive and wonderful--especially stories offering happy endings and obstacles to overcome extending beyond a protagonist's struggle to be accepted based on their sexuality or who they love. Lee's work can be counted among these refreshing stories and styles.
I must confess, I'm not unfamiliar with Lee's work, despite this being her first published novel. I've read several of her fan works, and in doing so, have become enamored and familiar with her story-telling and unique voice. Somewhere between eloquent and accessible, I've never failed to finish a reading without feeling completely satisfied and hungry for more in equal measure. So, obviously, I had to read her book once it was published.
Seven Tears at High Tide follows the budding romance between Morgan and Kevin Luong. After a break up disillusions Kevin to love, he follows an old wives' tale and wishes for a summer romance of genuine love. Morgan is the local selkie chosen to fulfill his request.
There are several several things done right with this novel. (And I use the term 'right' as an easy way to describe seeing the techniques and strategies I learned at university implemented effectively.) Most importantly is the overarching development of Morgan and Kevin's relationship, so I'll start with that.
Kevin is a human who makes a wish on a whim. Moran is the selkie sent to fulfill his wish. As a selkie, Morgan is awkward, ignorant to human etiquette, and it's pointed out as early as page 26.
"Mom, why did you say he was my boyfriend?"
She raises her eyebrows. "He was very polite and introduced himself with, 'I love Kevin Luong,'" she says, looking at Kevin over the papers in her hand.
How strange it is for a boy he just met to profess his love is weird for Kevin, and it's apparent in everything he says, everything he does. Though the narration uses phrases like "he thought it was weird" or "it was strange that," it's mostly just a reiteration of Kevin's behaviors and dialogues. Kevin even points it out to his parents--"I don't even know how he found out where we live."
So Kevin is apprehensive at first, and Morgan doesn't mind. They spend time together, and they learn about each other. Kevin doesn't understand why so many normal things to him are so new and wonderful to Morgan, but attributes it to Morgan's traveling lifestyle. And Kevin and his family are fairly accepting, anyway, so it seems perfectly aligned with his established character to not treat Morgan like a stalker or serial killer.
It's very realistic, established concretely within the world and characters Lee as developed, and undergoes the natural evolution and progress as any other relationship. This, I feel, is the one of the biggest achievements of this book. I wasn't left with questions of "why?" or "how?" and I certainly never thought the characters were stupid or naive for their thoughts or feelings. Kevin and Morgan aren't unreasonable. Their actions aren't governed by an authorial need for drama or angst. It's so incredibly refreshing.
The story is told from a third-person point of view in the present tense. Chapters, and sometimes sections within chapters, alternate between characters. There's a steady pattern in the beginning, but as the story complicates, the switches become fare less structured and far more frequent. Unlike with Maggie Steifvater's Shiver (you can read my review of it here), this shift doesn't work against the novel.
Kevin and Morgan don't obsess about each other and their relationship the way Sam and Grace did. Instead, the quickly alternating view points flesh out a fuller, clearer picture for the reader in real time. Morgan isn't just a selkie out to fulfill a wish--he's his own character, well-developed, with his own struggles outside of his relationship with Kevin. He has a family--a mother, brothers and sisters, cousins--and the reader understands how he fits in and functions within the group. And, unlike Sam or Grace, he pays them proper mind. The same is true for Kevin, though Kevin's struggles don't seem nearly as life-altering as Morgan's in comparison. Kevin is a bit of a loner in the beginning of the novel, but he eventually makes friends and spends time with them. The reader gets an understanding of his relationships with them, despite how new they are in development. The reader also knows how Kevin interacts with his parents, and how they feel about his bisexuality and dating boys. It's all presented very concisely--shown in little interactions and blips of dialogue here and there, instead of told through flat exposition--and paints a full picture of who these characters are in relation to each other and those around them. The biggest upside to this set-up is the ability offered to side-characters to share their opinions and input about Morgan and Kevin. This offers the reader other interpretations and understandings well beyond the influences of love and affection.
As the tension and action ramps up towards its climax, the alternating viewpoints and focal shifts flash back and forth in an almost cinematic fashion. While Morgan is off in dangerous situation X, Kevin is frantically searching for him in situation Y. While Kevin is dealing with problem X, Morgan is rallying allies for help solving the related problem, Y. It gives the reader a clear understanding to their feelings and motivations without breaking the tension of the moment, even if that moment is split simultaneously between two characters in two different locations. Interestingly enough, the flow was so organic, even during the faster, more frequent shifts, I actually had to go back and reread the later chapters to identify the change in point of view pattern.
I also didn't feel like Lee gave one character priority over another, though there are probably more pages dedicated to Morgan than Kevin. Morgan, as a selkie, naturally has to have more explanation behind the basics, like his very existence, or his selkie connection to the Sea. Kevin, as a human, doesn't need as much explanation. And though the lore behind Morgan and his family is explained well enough to suspend disbelief (unlike the werewolves in Shiver), Kevin is equally explored through defining details--like hiking boots sitting beside the front door of his house, his rock collection, or how one of the life guards at the beach is constantly trying to recruit him.
Like the tide that brought them together, Kevin and Morgan's relationship ebbs and flows, sometimes towards one another, sometimes away from one other. They are completely independent of each other, and clearly choose to be with one another out of pure desire and love instead of codependency or unhealthy baggage. After witnessing this solid foundation form and understanding its inherent strength, the ending leaves you praying for a sequel.
This is a wonderfully told story about love, where the ups and downs of adolescence are as benign as they should be, and both characters you come to care for are left neither broken nor scarred. It's hopeful and exciting in a tangible, empathetic way where the reader still cheers for the characters' successes and aches at their failures. During a new school year, we're just as disbelieving and surprised as enamored Kevin. But we're also just as confident and obvious as cheeky Morgan.
Everyone should read Seven Tears at High Tide. It was such gem, such an exceptional find; light and endearing, I couldn't stop grinning as I read it. I've used the word "refreshing" an obscene amount, so here are some synonyms: "revitalizing," "imaginative," "welcome," and "inspiriting."
Go read it! You'll love it, I promise.
I'll even give you some links.