Lately, I have felt like I’m in a reading rut because of the forty-two books of the 100-book goal I set for myself this year, I have yet to find a handful of books I genuinely adore. That may be because I read so much that all the books mesh together or because some don’t stand out to me with that WOW factor that all of us booktroverts desire. Well, that is, until I read Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. This heartfelt work of art features unlikely friends and a mystery that will keep tugging on those heartstrings. This book is outside my usual preferred genres of romance and thriller, but I am so happy I decided to give this book a shot because it truly is a masterpiece! Van Pelt has set the bar extraordinarily high for herself with this debut novel.
After losing her eighteen-year-old son over thirty years ago and the recent death of her husband, though financially stable, Tova Sullivan decided to get a job as a night-shift custodian at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. At 70 years old and without descendants, Tova finds solace in wiping windows and polishing floors — it keeps her busy, and for that, she is thankful. While working one night, Tova noticed the giant Pacific octopus, Marcellus, acting suspiciously. Marcellus was rescued as a young octopus and spent his life in captivity at the Aquarium, so naturally, he is curious and explorative. Being as brilliant as he is, Marcellus gets into trouble, but thankfully Tova is there to help him. Through this unexpected and unconventional friendship that begins to form, Marcellus’s brilliant mind is beautifully captivated as he comes into narration through the text.
Meanwhile, Cameron Cassmore travels to Sowell Bay from Modesto, California because he is in search of his father. Cameron’s mother was never present in his life, and his aunt raised him; not having anything tying him to Modesto, Cameron decides to follow the clues left by his mother and travel south to see if he can ultimately find the family he desires. Cameron has been a drifter his entire life, not lasting long in relationships and careers, so once he finds himself in Sowell Bay, he surprisingly begins to act like that of the thirty-year-old he is. Befriending Tova and Marcellus, the story of the three friends leads to a beautifully written and breathtaking story of friendship, grief, love, community, and family.
Well-developed characters are why I enjoy reading so much, so when Tova, Marcellus, and Cameron came into the plot, I was riddled with anticipation to see how Van Pelt would portray them, and be certain when I say she did not disappoint! While reading, you feel you’ve been carted across state lines and landed in the little Pacific Northwestern town, where the breeze smells of saltwater, and the neighbors are all-knowing.
Then, we have the brilliance of the writing itself. The author’s attention to detail with her symbolism, foreshadowing, and use of language is truly a work of art. Throughout the reading, the story skillfully brings the reader twists and turns at the correct times and precisely when your heart needs a little mending.
Scattered with humor and sarcasm, this debut novel by Shelby Van Pelt is a masterpiece. It is a beautifully thought-out and perfectly portrayed book that will stick with you long after reading.
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