Julia and the Shark


Julia follows her parents to live in a lighthouse in the Shetland isles, which her engineer father is automating.  Her mother, a marine biologist, intends to use the time to study the rare and mysterious Greenland shark.  The shark swims at the deepest depths and has the ability to slow time – this capability is being studied for its possible application to arresting Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

However, funding issues and her mother’s mental health problems threaten to imperil the family’s strength and unity.  Julia is haunted by dreams in which the shark dominates and are a harbinger of doom.  This is a superb tale, with a dream-like quality in the prose.  The story deals with bipolar disease in a sensitive way and Julia is an attractive and complex lead character.  In addition, environmental issues and bullying add to the rich and fulfilling story.

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Julia and the Shark

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston

(Orion) – hardback

Julia is spending the summer on the remote Shetland island of Unst while her dad makes its old lighthouse automated. Meanwhile, her marine biologist mother plans to use the northern location to search for the extremely rare and mysterious Greenland shark. The shark swims very slowly at enormous depths and has the ability to slow down time.  Scientists believe this ability could aid humankind in its search for a cure for dementia.
However, a lack of funding for her mother’s research programme, bullies and health problems put the family’s unity at risk. At night, the Greenland shark haunts Julia’s dreams, warning her that something terrible is about to happen.  There is a dream-like quality as well in the author’s lyrical writing, which shines throughout this story.  The narrative also includes poetry as well as prose. Every page is a treat to read and the quality of the book’s published quality is remarkable.
Julia is a convincing character with a clear voice. Her bond with her mother is incredibly strong and adds to the emotional impact of the story.  The story also offers an important and sensitive look at bipolar disorder and mental health.  There is also a really useful list of resources on the subject at the end of the text.
The author’s words work wonderfully with Tom de Freston’s illustrations, which are superb.  This is a really special book that comes highly recommended.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Way Past Winter is also available in the Bookwagon on-line bookstore.  Her web site is well worth a visit.


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