For the sixth book on my reading challenge list, I asked my friends to recommend a book written by and about a marginalized group or individual. After a few suggestions, I decided to choose the one recommended by my sister-in-law, Lissa: "Seven Tears at High Tide" by C.B. Lee. (Lee is an Asian-American and LGBTQ+, as is the protagonist of her novel.) It was published in 2015, and would probably be considered a young adult supernatural romance.
The book follows two main characters and their summer romance. Kevin, a 16-year-old bisexual young man, is beginning his break from school with the worst of teen heartbreak. He fell hard for the new boy in school, only to find that the boy was using him until he could get in with the popular crowd. While spending a morning on the beach being distraught, he remembers an old folktale about crying seven tears into the sea to have a wish granted. He wishes for what many of us would have wished for at that age -- to have one summer knowing real love with someone who likes him just as he is.
Our other main character, Morgan, is a 16-year-old shapeshifter -- a selkie, a being who lives in the sea and can appear as a seal or a human. He hears Kevin's request and the sea chooses him to fulfill it. Morgan will take on human form for the first time to connect with Kevin and show him love for the summer.
There is a lot about this story that plays out like a typical teen supernatural romance. Morgan doesn't understand enough about the human world to avoid acting strangely, leading to some comical confusion that eventually inspires him to confess his true nature to Kevin. An outside force presents danger in the form of "hunter" scientists looking to capture a selkie. And, of course, there comes a time when Morgan must choose between going back to his family or staying a human to be with Kevin.
The true heart of the story, however, is the relationship between Kevin and Morgan. Kevin's original heartbreak comes in part because he is different, but this is one that touches beyond his differences; it's an experience that many of us had as teens regardless of our gender or orientation. The real magic of his relationship with Morgan isn't that Morgan is a magical being, but that it isn't portrayed as different from any other teen romance. Anyone can imagine themselves in that story -- the rush of first love, the feeling of wonder spending time with someone whose company you truly enjoy, the connection felt with someone who really understands you.
The narrative unfortunately gets a bit convoluted by the end. The storyline about the scientists and the dangers they pose seems forced, shoved in just because all teen supernatural romances have to have some outside group creating peril. It's unfortunate because it's unnecessary in this story. The drama surrounding Morgan's choice is enough to add tension and uncertainty to the story, and the extra plot device causes the story to suffer on the whole.
Because it is a romance, a happy ending is expected, and in that the book doesn't disappoint, but the ending seems rushed and disconnected. It feels like the story got away from Lee, which is sad because it had so much potential. It fails by falling into the genre trope with the introduction of the "scary humans" hunting the misunderstood supernatural creature, when the book is actually most enjoyable when it centers itself on the budding relationship between the two teens.
Aside from that, it's still a good read for what it originally sets out to do -- explore a beautiful relationship between two people who genuinely care about each other. It acknowledges that the characters are different without being overbearing. At its core, it is a story of young love and the ideals of summer romance, and it reminds us to look for the beauty in the ordinary and see the world with fresh eyes, as if we were experiencing being human for the first time.