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Otters’ Moon

Susanna Bailey

Egmont Books – Published 29th October 2020

‘Sometimes you can find a friend in the loneliest of places’

Luke is in a truly lonely place. His mum has packed them off to spend the summer holidays on a remote Scottish Island where the locals are anything but friendly. His dad has left and with a new baby on the way, is too busy with his shiny new family to care.

Mum’s debilitating depression means she rarely leaves the house, in fact even getting up out of bed is an effort. She barely eats and relies on Luke to take care of the cooking and shopping. Although you can’t really call buying bread, milk and a few tins of beans from the one tiny shop on the island shopping. There’s no phone or internet signal so Luke spends the days wandering the deserted beaches and clifftop paths, lost in his own thoughts. Half the time, mum doesn’t even realise he’s gone.

Then Luke meets Meg who lives with her grandad in a boarded-up boathouse on the beach. Her parents are both gone, but she won’t say why or where they are now. Grandad is often found wandering the cliffs and beaches too, rambling and confused, talking to people who aren’t there.

And Grandad’s ramblings seem to have a sinister undertone. It’s as Luke triggers a painful memory, as whenever he’s around Grandad is suddenly transported to a different place, tormented by the mysterious Otters’ Moon and a place called Puffin Bay that Meg is forbidden from visiting. But Meg is the one keeping Grandad safe – just like Luke, she’s the parent and not the child.

When Grandad is sleeping soundly, exhausted from his disorientating episodes, Meg finds solace in the wildlife on the shores. She shows Luke an otter family she has been observing on the beach. Luke learns however that mother nature can be cruel and the pair are forced to rescue and rear an orphaned pup.

Bonded by the baby otter, the two lost souls Luke and Meg find friendship and comfort in each other. Although they both spend the majority of their time caring for the adults in their lives, caring for the pup brings a welcome distraction from their harrowing home lives.

But danger lurks behind the beauty of Puffin Bay – is the Otters’Moon about to take it’s next victim?

I count myself very lucky to have been sent a review copy of this wonderful book. I was utterly gripped by the elements of mystery in the story and captivated by the breath-taking descriptions of the Scottish island setting. It’s such an atmospheric read, I could almost feel the salty wind whip my face and hear the Puffins and Guillemots calling overhead.

The challenging themes of depression and dementia were handled so sensitively in this story, but without shying away from the harsh reality faced by those caring for a loved one with either condition. Both our principal characters being young carers, will be a situation so relatable for many young people. Luke and Meg always have that nagging worry in the back of their minds and have to make sure they are back home by a certain time to make mum or Grandad’s tea or to go and check on them. Until they find one another they are both islands in a vast ocean, stranded with no-one to help.

Of course, at the heart of the plot is the heartwarming storyline about our otter baby, but this is so much more than an animal rescue story. On the surface, Luke and Meg rescue the pup, but actually it’s her that rescues them from their dark places and gives them hope and friendship when it seems like there is none. Caring for an animal brings great comfort and joy and this is so evident in the way Luke particularly bonds with the tiny creature – it’s such a therapeutic experience for him. I was so touched by how his heart literally bursts with love for the baby otter and how he is then able to relate these feelings to his new baby sibling and begin to find some acceptance. There were many lump at the back of the throat moments!

Alongside the carefully handled themes is a healthy dose of adventure in spades. I think there’s something so intriguing about islands. Children will love exploring the deserted beaches with Luke and Meg and rowing out to sea in a fishing boat and riding the waves. The fact that the youngsters roam for miles unsupervised is something the children of today are rarely able to do and there sense of danger around the corner is thrilling.

I always think it’s a sign of a good book when I finish it in a matter of hours. The different layers of the story can be enjoyed and appreciated by primary ages pupils on so many levels and I’m absolutely sure it will capture their hearts as it did mine.

I am now definitely going to have to read ‘Snow Foal’ also by Susanna Bailey.

Thank you to Egmont Publishing for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book.

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