Last year I was captivated by Lindsay Galvin's 'Darwin's Dragons' (my review here) and now I have been completely submerged in the wonders of her latest middle-grade book. 'My Friend the Octopus' is a superb historical mystery; charming, intriguing and full of vivid, historical detail. Galvin must be a time-traveller as her evocations of the past are just so rich and absorbing.
England, 1893, and aquarium fever is at its height. Twelve-year-old Vinnie Fyfe works in the tea-shop at Brighton aquarium, and waits for her milliner mother to return from Paris. The arrival of a giant octopus changes her life for ever. Discovering a talent for art, Vinnie begins to draw the extraordinary beast. She soon realises she can communicate with the octopus through colour and - as a gripping mystery begins to unfold - discovers what true courage really means...
There is so much to admire about Lindsay Galvin's writing. Vinnie's voice is transportative: we're immediately drawn into her world of fancy hats and then the colourful contrast of Brighton in the 1890s. There is restraint in her character but also a yearning which only builds excitement and intrigue as the plot thickens like ink in a tank. There is so much brilliantly evoked period detail: the tea shops, the bathing machines, Brighton Aquarium, the factories of London and so much more. On top of that, how Galvin describes the octopus; its movements, its intelligence and its wonderful developing relationship with Vinne is truly excellent. If Darwin and Dickens wrote a children's book together it might end up being something very much like this! (Note: if you are as astonished by the life of an octopus as I am, I really recommend Netflix's documentary 'My Octopus Teacher'. Octopuses are so underrated and overlooked as one of Earth's most amazing creatures).
Yet there is so much more. This is a book about finding your independence, what kindness and courage truly means, and how exploiting humans and nature is never right. Lindsay Galvin is proving to be one of our top children's authors for writing vivid, historical dramas infused with the magic of science. I can't wait to see what she writes next!