Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.
Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.
Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, especially Kiki’s Delivery Service or Whisper of the Heart (which are two of my personal favourites), then I think you are going to love Tidesong by Wendy Xu. With its gentle narrative, tender and heartfelt messages, and gorgeous art, this gorgeous middle-grade graphic novel now has a place in my heart forever. Not only did I adore this book with my whole being, Tidesong is the kind of book that will resonate with so many readers, especially those of us who often struggle with the pressures that we place on ourselves.
Tidesong follows Sophie, a twelve-year old witch whose mother and grandmother send her to live with her Grandmother Lan and cousin Sage, who will teach her magic so that she can attend the Royal Magic Academy. Except, when she arrives, Sophie is frustrated to discover that her harsh and stern Grandmother seems more interested in giving her chores, rather than teaching her any magic. In an attempt to prove herself, she attempts to cast magic – and accidentally entangles her fate with a young water dragon named Lir.
Xu’s gorgeous illustrations will immediately enchant and charm readers. I love that Xu has noticeably grown as an artist since her previous published middle-grade novel, Mooncakes. The art is an absolute delight; Xu’s illustrations are enchanting, containing hints of Chinese mythology and influences, and beautifully capture the magic and rich emotions depicted in the story. The lore in Tidesong is wonderful – not too overwhelming for a younger reader’s graphic novel, but enough to marvel with its details and how magic is depicted. Reading Tidesong, it also became apparent that the story feels like a love letter to the ocean; a tribute to its wonders, its power, its beauty, and how its rich with biodiversity, mythology, and its own kind of magic.
The story itself, though, is just as extraordinary as its art. I adored Sophie, a young girl who wants desperately to be a young witch to fulfill her family’s wishes and ambitions. At times, she is impatient, irritable, and selfish, but that’s what makes her character relatable and her growth across the book so satisfying and meaningful. Sophie also struggles immensely with negative self-talk, or that ‘mean voice’ inside our heads, that intrude and shape her decisions and her perceptions of her own worth and ability. I loved that Tidesong centered its story on a young girl who struggles with something that is incredibly real, and the genuine depiction of a flawed young girl who isn’t perfect, though she desperately strives to be, will resonate with many readers.
The beauty of Tidesong is that it is ultimately a simple and heartwarming slice-of-life story, but if you look deeper, the story has nuance that explores identity and self-worth, and the importance of communication. Its core message of talking to one another and expressing our feelings, even when talking about those feelings are difficult and reveal that we made mistakes or weren’t perfect, is so important. Relatedly, the story examines how the words of adults, especially those we look up to, can have immense power, and I loved that the story depicts how it’s important for adults to admit their mistakes and say sorry.
Furthermore, I related to Sophie’s feelings of tying her sense of worth to her ability to conjure magic, and how that pursuit of worth can lead you to lose sight of the pure joy of doing what you love – I experienced the same sort of feelings and struggle with my art, and the discomforting feeling of when your vision and ambitions don’t match the reality of your skills. Ultimately, the vulnerable, earnest and heartfelt storytelling in Tidesong will evoke different feelings in different readers. Whatever it may be, Tidesong is guaranteed to be a memorable read.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
After reading Tidesong, I didn’t want to leave; I wanted to stay longer in the world that Xu created. I’ll undoubtedly be re-reading this over and over and over again whenever I need a book that feels like a warm and comforting hug. Heartfelt, earnest, and vulnerable, Tidesong is a wondrous story, its afterglow promised to stay with readers for the days to come.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A young witch stays with her strict grandmother in the hopes of learning magic to get into a prestigious magic school – until a young water dragon rescues her from the ocean, changing the course of her life.
Perfect for: Readers who love Studio Ghibli; readers looking for a gentle and heartwarming story; readers who love slice-of-life fantasy stories.
Think twice if: Readers who like more complexity in their fantasies and world-building or readers who don’t enjoy younger protagonists
Genre: middle-grade fantasy graphic novel
Trigger/content warning: near-drowning