Residents of a dying industrial town in northern England blame a mysterious outsider for their increasing troubles.
The year is 1933. Motherless 13-year-old Ruby lives in Cradle Cross with her gruffly overprotective grandmother Annie. Long ago, Annie lost her husband and baby in a shipwreck. Terrified after Ruby’s father took her on a potentially dangerous sea outing, Annie forbade the girl to go into water or even to cross the canals that make Cradle Cross an inland island. Since then, Ruby’s father has lived alone on his boat; Ruby sees him daily from shore but has not felt his touch for years. With the adults around her unable to articulate their affection, desperately lonely Ruby yearns to escape to the sea. Then exotic, mysterious Isa Fly shows up, saying that her dying father Moonie has sent her from their seaside home to find her long-lost sister Lily. No one has heard of Moonie Fly, and the local women suspect that Isa, with her white skin, wild hair and one blind eye, is a witch. Ruby has her own suspicions, but she’s drawn to the visitor’s magnetic personality and convinces herself that Isa will take her back to the sea if she helps find Lily. Also drawn to Isa, in adult ways Ruby only partly understands, are Annie’s devoted friend Captin, who employs Ruby in his fish restaurant, and worldly, educated Truda Blick, newly in charge of Blicks’ Button Factory, the town’s primary employer. When Truda takes drastic measures to stave off the factory’s collapse, townspeople assume that her desperate belt-tightening stems from meanness. Meanwhile, they blame Isa when items begin to go missing. The local dialect takes a little getting used to, but it nails the characterizations. What begins as a charming tale of mermaid myths and regional superstition evolves into a heartbreakingly realistic account of social upheaval and family tragedy.
A spellbinding first novel, distinguished by unforgettable storytelling.