Poppy seems to be accepting this place more, but I keep thinking about the man, Doctor Jonathan, and the argument between him and Iona. I’m beginning to feel like we are in a giant containment pen, like a safari-park enclosure.
(The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin. P34.)
After their mother dies, Aster and her little sister Poppy are sent to live with Aunt Iona. They are excpecting a house but Aunt Iona lives in an eco-village where she studies healthy lifestyles. Aster keeps noticing strange things about the eco-village. There’s the forced injections for one thing, and the argument between Aunt Iona and the other doctor. Then Aster wakes up on a tropical island with no idea how she got there. Poppy has disappeared.
Where is she? Where are all the teenagers from the eco-village, and most importantly of all, where is Poppy? The more Aster searches for Poppy, the more strange things she finds. There is a secret deep in the water. A secret with the potential to change medical history.
An underwater thriller and a fantastic adventure. From the creeping sense that something isn’t right in the eco-village to the show-stopping underwater scenes, everything about this book is designed to keep you reading.
Here’s a secret – I thought I didn’t like thrillers. I loved this book. Maybe I don’t like thriller clichés. Car chases and eccentric billionaires and ‘broken’ protagonists. This book is original, its characters are rounded and the villains are the heroes of their own story. You could almost sympathise with the main villain, and that’s what makes this so good. It is a Frankenstein story about the darkest human experiences and how far we should reasonably go to change the inevitable. It is about science and ethics and the lengths we would go to save people we love.
Aster’s grief feels real. She deflects all conversation about her mother but sees likenesses to Mum everywhere. This isn’t a melodramatic grief. It is silent and all-encompassing. Aster also suffers from anxiety, and it is wonderful to see a protagonist with mental health issues who is able to live with their condition. This story isn’t about treating the anxiety. It is something Aster lives with and manages while she continues her life. Top marks for representation. It is so important for people to understand that mental health conditions can – when they are manageable – be part of everyday life.
There is another great character in the story. Sam’s Grandad has cancer and the experimental trial which was working wonders has been cancelled. If you find it difficult to empathise with Iona, you will certainly feel for Sam. He would go to any lengths to save his Grandad, even if it meant endangering other people. Sam’s story gives us a deeper emotional link to the main themes. It is easier to imagine ourselves in Sam’s shoes than Iona’s.
The other thing I love about this book is the setting. The coral reef and white sands. Lindsay Galvin clearly has an interest in science. We learn about bioluminescent creatures and edible plants and preserving resources. This is a deeply intelligent setting with the potential to interest its readers in biology and geography.
A brilliant and beautiful story whose themes are deeper for their subtlety. I would love to read more about Sam and Aster, and their fascinating discovery.
THE SECRET DEEP is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)