The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (Knopf hardcover, 11 September 2012).
Rollrock Island was bleak and isolated with but a handful of families who'd lived there forever. Few left and even fewer came to visit.
Misskaela Prout was the youngest in her family. She didn't look like her brother or sisters, and she didn't seem to be able to make any friends. She didn't seem to mind her isolation, and often walked alone on the strand.
But one day, when she was nine years old, the seals seemed to recognize her as she walked on the beach, and when she woke up the next day, scores of seals surrounded her house. They followed her to school, and everyone was alarmed.
An elderly neighbor sent her grandson to tell the Prouts that Misskaela should wear straps of cloth across her chest in the shape of an X. Once she did this, the seals seemed to lose interest and went back to the sea. But she knew that she had seen the human that existed inside a seal.
When she was a young woman, an awkward young man from the village came to her. He told Misskaela that none of the local girls would show any interest in him, and asked her to call forth a woman from one of the seals to be his bride.
And so, Misskaela became the island's seal-witch, charging great sums of money to produce sea-wives for the young men of the island, helping to end the in-breeding that had gone on for so very long.
Margo Lanagan's unique approach to the ancient legend of the selkies, is at once amazing, wonderful and frightening. Her prose is that of a venerable storyteller, whisking the reader to the windy, rocky island away in the northern waters. The story is absorbing, affecting and alive, and will be enjoyed by all who enjoy well-written fantasy.
FTC full disclosure: I picked up an advance reading copy of this book at ALA last June.