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BOOK REVIEW: Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave with Tom de Freston

| 13 September 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave with Tom de Freston

Orion / Hachette Children’s Books
September 2021
Hardcover, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade / Adventure / Mental Health

90% Rocking

A captivating, powerful and luminous story from a bestselling, award-winning author about a mother, a daughter and the great Greenland shark.

The shark was beneath my bed, growing large as the room, large as the lighthouse, rising from unfathomable depths until it ripped the whole island from its roots. The bed was a boat, the shark a tide, and it pulled me so far out to sea I was only a speck, a spot, a mote, a dying star in an unending sky…

Julia has followed her mum and dad to live on a remote island for the summer – her dad, for work; her mother, on a determined mission to find the elusive Greenland shark. But when her mother’s obsession threatens to submerge them all, Julia finds herself on an adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope…

A beautiful, lyrical, uplifting story about a mother, a daughter, and love – with timely themes of the importance of science and the environment.



There are more secrets in the ocean than in the sky. Mum told me when the water is still and the stars prick its surface, some of the sky’s secrets fall into the sea and add to its mysteries. When we lived in the lighthouse, I hauled my long-handled crab net over the balcony railing and tried to catch them, but I never did.

Ten-year-old Julia is in awe of her mother and her obsessive and deep, abiding love for animals and the environment. Compare Julia to her marine-biologist mother, and you’ll see her light up with pride. 

But over the course of their summer at the lighthouse, Julia will come to learn more about the internal battles some of people might face, despite being outwardly sunshiney people, and how that doesn’t make them lesser people, or reduce the love we have for them.

She studied whales at university, and wrote a very long essay about a whale that goes around the world alone because it sings at a different frequency to other whales. It can hear them, but they can’t hear it. I understand a little how that whale feels. Ever since Mum got ill, I feel like I’ve been screaming inside.


This book is more than just words, just illustrations, just a story. The entire package of Julia and the Shark is beautifully and lovingly created in such a way as to pull you in. You’ll understand Julia’s turbulent feelings, because she invites you to experience them right alongside her. 

Love, pride, ambition, fear, adventure, injustice, friendship, heartache, and hope are found in these pages, along with quite a few other things besides. 

Mesmerising images in shades of black, grey, and white, at contrast with the bright dashes of yellow will take your breath away.

The yellow is important, because it’s the yellow of of Julia’s mum’s raincoat, the yellow of the little notebook Julia uses to record fascinating facts about the ocean and the animals who live there . the yellow light that beams out from the lighthouse… or will, once Julia’s dad gets it working again.

You’ll want to devour this book to see how everything turns out, but you’ll be sad when it’s over. You’ll want to go back and take in how those flashes of yellow in the otherwise darkly beautiful images, might be a metaphor for how just a flash of hope can guide our way through dark times.


All in all another outstanding book by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who seems to have a knack for shining the light on some pretty dark stuff and leaves her readers feeling hopeful, rather than bogged down. Made all the more powerful, of course, by Tom de Freston’s stunning artwork. 


Category: Book Reviews

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