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Julia & The Shark

Kiran Milwood Hargrave

Illustrated by Tom de Freeston

Prepare to ride waves of emotion in this hugely powerful and moving adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope…

Ten year old Julia, her mum, dad and cat Noodle have left their home in Hayle Cornwall to live on Unst, a remote Shetland island for the summer. Julia’s parents are two very strong-minded and slightly eccentric individuals, each the polar opposite of each other.

Dad works with numbers and is there to automate the lighthouse that is to be home for the summer. Meanwhile, Julia’s marine biologist mother is on a determined mission to find the elusive Greenland shark. Grandma Julia had suffered with dementia leading to her death and mum believes that the shark holds the key to slowing down the ageing of the mind and body.

Julia watches helplessly as her mother becomes totally fixated with finding the shark. It completely takes over, her behaviour becomes erratic and her mood swings from intense happiness one moment to feelings of enormous sadness and hopelessness the next.

When her mother’s obsession threatens to submerge them all, Julia finds herself on a dangerous and frightening adventure…

This is such a poignant and and touching tale. The words ebb and flow like the tide, lapping at your heart and brace yourself for some huge waves that will come crashing in and engulf you in some very hard-hitting and electrifying moments.

Tom de Freeston’s stunning illustrations will take your breath away. They capture beautifully the swirling seas and skies around the lighthouse and Julia’s churning subconscious mind. This is a shorter read than Kiran’s previous books but the illustrations speak a thousand words. I found myself lingering over them and returning to certain depictions later to ponder over them.

The shark takes on many meanings in the story and one of them is a powerful metaphor for mental health; lurking just below the surface in the murky depths until it crashes above the waves, unable to be contained any longer, drowning it’s helpless prey.

The shark was beneath my bed, growing large as the room, large as the lighthouse, rising from unfathomable depths until it ripped the whole island from its roots. The bed was a boat, the shark a tide, and it pulled me so far out to sea I was only a speck, a spot, a mote, a dying star in an unending sky…

Fearful, lost and confused by her mum’s worrying decline, the shark stalks Julia in her dreams; circling her, threatening to swallow her up. But where there is darkness, there must also be light and Julia’s light arrives in the form of Kin, a lonely island boy.

Star-gazer Kin is hunted by his own shiver of sharks. He and Julia are two misunderstood individuals who when they find each other, it’s like two whales on the same frequency, able to hear the hidden messages that others can’t.

This is Millwood Hargrave’s first collaboration with illustrator husband Tom de Freeston and what a captivating collaboration it is! It’s made all the more moving when Kiran references some of her and Tom’s own struggles with mental health in the author notes. It’s a book that will resonate with so many adults and children alike and allow conversations about mental illness to take place.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave can do no wrong! I’ve adored each and every one of her previous books and Julia and The Whale has earned it’s place in my heart alongside them.

Julia and The Shark publishes on the 2nd September in stunning hardcover.

With thanks to Orion Children’s Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this stunning book.

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