Saturday, February 19, 2022

Review: Threshold by Angela J. Reynolds

Set along the coastline in Cape Breton, Threshold is a gorgeous meditation on the magic of friendship, if one only has the courage to reach for it. This friendship is the turning point in the life of a dreamy twelve-year-old girl, who is spending a lonely summer over at her aunt's house by the ocean, agonizing over her younger brother's health. "Will he die?" is a question that haunts her. But she has no one her age to share her worries with, until she meets someone who understands her perfectly.

The beaches are dear to debut author Angela J. Reynolds' heart, and that love gives the novel a luminous quality. Like the gentle waves lapping the shore, the book has a soft beginning as Terra luxuriates in the endless summer stretching out before her, even as she keeps her worries bottled up. She allows the ocean and the beach to disarm her and soothe her. Swimming, collecting sea glass and pearlescent shells, and simply walking, her toes curling in the sand, is how she means to spend her days.

She finds her interest snagged by the sea caves where she can hear the waves crashing at high tide but accessible at low tide. She is stunned to notice that one of the seals sunning themselves on the rocks has unusual blue eyes, and that the seal is trying to communicate with her. What can this possibly mean?

A few weeks into her vacation, she’s woken up one night with eerie singing. “The song wasn’t loud, but it felt as though it was in her head, not out on the beach, a dreamlike sound the color of starlight.” Compelled to rise from her bed and head to the seashore, her feet take her to the rocks above the sea cave where she sees a beautiful mermaid with unusual blue eyes all aglow in the moonlight. And so begins an unlikely friendship that nevertheless is deeply meaningful for both girls. Minne, the mermaid, introduces her to the world of the Murgelt in the depths of the sea where Terra feels at home.

Terra’s aunt’s girlfriend owns a museum celebrating Acadian history. On her first visit to the museum, Terra is drawn to a tarnished hand mirror with strange markings. She is stunned to hear the same humming that she associates with Mergelt singing. A glance through some ancient texts and repeated conversations with her Mergelt friends convinces her that La Lune Mirroir is deeply meaningful to the Mergelt. What Terra decides to do next is an exciting discovery I leave to you.

Threshold is a children's middle grade novel that is a welcome departure from the high-octane novels that dominate the market. No less propulsive, it is a tale replete with the emotions of a young girl on the cusp of her teen years. Most mermaid stories involve the sea creatures entering the human realm. The action in Reynolds’ highly original story has humans surviving deep in the ocean. The means of breathing and communicating underwater and unraveling the social hierarchies and cultural priorities occupy Terra’s waking hours to the exclusion of all else.

Reynolds’ innate understanding of the pre-teen mind allows her to show how Terra grows through this experience from a cautious little girl into a courageous, self-confident young girl able to negotiate complex situations with ease. Likewise, her ability to communicate with peers and adults, human and Mergelt, brims with mature conviction.

Threshold, a tale of friendship, family, and great derring-do, is a highly addictive read. Its compelling and engrossing nature is enhanced by the lyrical beauty of Reynolds’ prose. Highly recommended.

[The beautiful cover art is by the talented illustrator Lauren Soloy, whose picture books are some of my favorites. The book will be available in June 2022 from Moose House Publications of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Please Note: Angela is a friend of mine. We met online when both of us took classes on medieval manuscripts. She, then, joined me in writing Morning Pages. Her book grew out of those Pages. This is the first time I read it.]