The Blurb (from Goodreads):
A wild, stormy night . . . A shipwreck . . . The sudden appearance of a stranger . . . That is how it all begins. The stranger is Finn Learson, a young and handsome man who seems to be the only survivor of the wreck. Finn Learson is charming and generous, and the Henderson family gladly give him shelter. Only young Robbie Henderson does not trust Finn Learson and his oddly unsettling secret smile. Robbie is sure that he is hiding something–but what? The clues Robbie finds are mysterious: Finn Learson’s love of dancing; an ancient gold coin that Finn gives to the family; strange omens in the ashes of a fire; and beautiful young Elspeth Henderson’s increasingly odd behavior. Then, in one frightening moment, Robbie recalls his grandfather’s warning and discovers at last the terrible, incredible truth about Finn Learson. And Robbie knows it’s up to him to save his sister . . . before it’s too late. Only 12-year-old Robbie knows that the mysterious Finn Learson is the evil Great Selkie, the seal-man of Shetland Islands legend. Phoenix Award winning author Mollie Hunter has written another suspense story finely laced with folklore; her storytelling is as spontaneous as it is irresistible
Mollie Hunter is a wonderful Scottish writer for children who is not nearly as well-known as she deserves to be. I have many of her books – some collected when I was a child and some (including a signed first edition) collected as an adult. I first read A Stranger Came Ashore when I was about eleven, after borrowing it from my school library. I’ve been looking for it ever since, but could not remember its name. Then, a month or so ago, I read a brief review of it on an English book blog and at once remembered how much I had loved it, and ordered a copy straightaway.
It’s a Selkie tale, set in the Highlands of Scotland sometime in the 19th century. The novel begins with a storm, and a shipwreck, and a handsome, young stranger washed ashore. As his sister begins to fall in love with the stranger, forgetting her childhood sweetheart, 12-year old Robbie Henderson finds himself becoming more and more suspicious. He remembers an old tale his grandfather used to tell him about seals that turn into humans, but cannot believe it could be true. Soon he is caught up in a dark and suspenseful adventure as he tries to save his sister. A Stranger Came Ashore was rightly acclaimed when it was published in 1975, winning many awards including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.