In this debut novel, a sea squirt larva leaves her tide-pool home on a journey of acceptance.
Eleven-year-old Siona Seaton hates the ocean. Unfortunately, her mother, Dr. Seaton, is a marine biologist and has brought her to the beach to collect samples. While she’d like to sit somewhere dry and read, Siona instead explores the tide pools—and gets bit by a ragworm. Later, at home, Dr. Seaton consoles her daughter with the story of Siona the sea squirt, who lived 521.2 million years ago. Siona is a larva, still able to swim before attaching to a rock for the sedentary portion of her life. But her father, Sir Squirt, notices that her head and tail are much bigger than they should be, lamenting, “Not all larvae can be perfect.” He also tells her that only 10 percent of sea squirt larvae survive. Yet Siona believes her large tail can help others, and a neighbor, a Hallucigenia named Helamite, suggests visiting Clarissa the Clairvoyant Clam for advice. Her parents disapprove of the adventure, but Siona hopes to locate Sydney the Sea Star, who knows the secret passage to Clarissa’s tide pool. Danger lurks along the way in the form of pistol shrimp and sea spiders. Liepe’s enjoyable educational novel doesn’t stop with characters based on marine invertebrates from the colorful Cambrian radiation. In this tale that exceptionally smart kids and adults should find entertaining, she packs her prose with science facts from various disciplines, as in the line “Photons of light escaped” the sun “as packets of energy, waves, and particles to bombard and bounce from the shell of a snail.” But some of the concepts—like protein “widgets”—may be tough for younger readers to visualize without a quick web search. The friendly images by debut illustrator Kathleen reveal just how bizarre animals like Anomalocaris canadensis were. Occasionally, Liepe checks in with her human cast, and as Siona learns about the sea, she gradually overcomes her fear of it. Toward the end is a useful warning about ocean acidification and bleached coral, signs that humanity is destroying the foundation of the planet’s abundance.
A lively narrative that should inspire careful consideration of the oceans.