Thursday, 9 July 2009

Book review - Selina Penaluna by Jan Page

Evacuees Jack and Ellen are twins, sent to the safety of Cornwall during the war. In the small seaside town they live with Mr and Mrs Rosewarne, a wealthy couple with a large house right beside the sea. What starts off as a holiday quickly becomes more serious. The Rosewarnes are peculiar, especially towards Jack, acting as if he was their real son. Ellen soon takes advantage of this opportunity, but Jack is uncomfortable. He turns more and more to the stunningly beautiful local girl Selina.
Selina was abandoned by her mother as a young girl, but not before Mora tells her that she’s not her daughter at all. Mora dropped her baby in a pool and she claims the baby who came out was not her daughter. Half convinced she’s a mermaid, Selina is left alone with her abusive father. She and Jack need one another, but the closer they become, the more they force Ellen out. Their passionate relationship seems destined to end in tragedy.

Selina Penaluna was more than I was expecting. I knew it was a love story for teenagers, so I expected it to be a love story about teenagers. It is, but it’s also more than that. It spans several generations and the narrative switches between the present and the past that is catching up to main character Ellen. The depth of the story is reminiscent of Michael Morpurgo but for older readers. Selina Penaluna isn’t just a straightforward story, but deals with life, regrets and mistakes, leading readers to question their own lives and how they will view them years from now. The book also feels slightly old-fashioned in essence. Jan Page has perfectly captured the differences between generations and you can feel the depth of the story.

From about halfway through I’d guessed at the plot but that didn’t really detract from its meaning. It’s quite straightforward but the jumping around in time makes the story seem more thorough. I don’t think I’m making much sense here, so I’ll just say that Jan Page hasn’t just captured the voice of the past, but also created a story that has a quality of the past in itself.

Every character is deeper than is apparent at first glance. All three of the main characters act stupidly at times, yet it’s possible to sympathise with all of them even when they come to odds with each other. Those who act suspiciously or badly usually have motivations behind this and the complex relationships are much more like real life than the linear relationships usually found in books.

Selina Penaluna is quite slow paced. It doesn’t have a particularly exciting plot, but what it does have is absolute believability. Jan Page has created a story that I can imagine a grandparent telling me. It’s an unlikely story, but it rings true because of the detail, the characters, the mistakes. It feels like it could be a completely true story. It’s somehow deeper than most teen books out there at the moment. Not in terms of complexity of characters or plot, but in the added dimension of age. Most books I read shy away from the prospect of getting old, looking back on your life, preferring to centre solely on teen protagonists. Selina Penaluna is that too, but there’s more to it, it feels like the actions the teens do have more consequences because we can see them in Ellen as an old woman.

I apologise for making very little sense. Mixed feelings on the book as it was quite slow, but kudos to the author for making it so real. I think it’s probably worth reading for that.


  1. Very interesting review - it's great to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  2. Hmm, this is the first review I've read on this book, although I've seen it pop up on a quite a few UK blogs, mostly because of the cover being another lookalike. It sounds like an idea that would be fantastic if done right, although doing it right is tricky. Nice honest review though.

  3. This cover girl is seriously popular!

  4. Great review! Can't wait to read this. I would give a book 4* just for making me feel as if I was there by the way the author makes it seem real, and it seems from your review that Selina Penaluna is like that.


  5. I haven't been on your blog in a while, but I just wanted to say that I love your new background!

  6. I know, it mus be so strange for the cover girl to have this one photo of her on so many books!

    Thanks Priya! I'd been needing to change it forever :)

  7. That is a very interesting review. I like books which give glimpses ito other lives. In this book I got a feeling of how remote and forgotten Cornwall was in those days, so unlike today when you could never have a village by the sea that was truly remote with only locals living there.
    In fact, I found that intriguing - how different England was, in living memory. Like a different world....