THE SECRET DEEP by Lindsay Galvin is an eventful, emotional, wild, and entertaining tale that keeps readers guessing in the best possible way throughout the story. Aster and Poppy, sisters who have recently lost their mother to cancer, must travel from England to New Zealand to live with their Aunt Iona. Their extraordinary adventures are horror-story and fantasy-worthy even as they feel very typically middle grade. With a wide variety of characters in age, personality, and ethnicity, even reluctant readers will find someone to relate to.
Galvin’s debut novel is a fast read with fantastic descriptions of underwater scenery as well as detailed explanations about survival preparations and techniques. Readers follow the sisters, Aster most closely, as they are swept into scientific drama and intrigue. We get to know Aster as she struggles with anxiety, grief, and her newfound responsibility for her younger sister. The chapters toggle between Aster’s point-of-view and Sam, a boy the sisters met on their plane to New Zealand. Sam’s chapters center on solving the mystery of how the girls and his Granda’s doctor are connected. The details are at once outlandish and oddly believable, as often happens in middle grade stories.
As enjoyable and readable the novel is, at times the characters feel under-developed. Readers hear about some basic background (Aster was a star swimmer and has anxiety, Poppy is carefree and outgoing, Iona is a doctor who has worked extensively in refugee camps), but further details are sparse and sometimes feel artificially inserted. Despite this, readers will still find themselves deeply invested in Aster’s search for her sister and their survival. The twists and turns keep our attention, but they also allow readers to avoid a connection to Aunt Iona and even Sam. Even so, THE SECRET DEEP is worth a read, and many middle graders will go back for a second visit to make sure they caught all the hints and adventures throughout the story.