Sea Change, by Gina Chung, is about Dolores, a giant octopus in captivity, and about Ro, who cares for Dolores while everything else in her life falls apart. This is a terribly relatable story about being stuck and being aimless at the same time.
Dolores was an amazing almost-character, because who doesn't love a story about a giant octopus? But Dolores is also a connection to Ro's childhood and her father. Her father was an adventurous marine biologist, who once worked at the same aquarium. He brought Dolores back from an expedition to the Bering Vortex, a dangerous environmental phenomena that helped mutate Dolores to a giant with a massive lifespan. (Something something toxic waste, I think.) The Bering Vortex is also where Ro's father disappeared on a research expedition a few years later.
Ro's settled into a repetitive, low-level job at the local aquarium. She does a lot of cleaning and menial work for an underwhelming boss, but she gets to see Dolores at work. Besides, work isn't a career or a calling, it's just how Ro funds her drinking. Most of it's solo drinking, too, which serves to highlight how isolated she is.
Ro's boyfriend has just left her, after being selected for a mission to Mars. That sounds weird, like this is becoming a scifi story, but it's highly relatable, in the way the twentysomething relationships are often severed by work and opportunities, and sometimes by a gap in ambition.
Ro's bestie works at the aquarium, but she's completely lapped Ro, and now leads marketing. She's planning a wedding, because she's completely lapped Ro in the relationship department, too. Aaaaaah, this is so twentysomething. Once childhood friends and peers, they're now on completely different tracks and their relationship is terribly strained. At times, I wasn't even sure they had a friendship anymore. Look, I know the manned mission to Mars and the mutant octopus don't sound terribly realistic, but this novel is so emotionally realistic.
When Ro learns that Dolores the octopus will be sold to a billionaire's private aquarium, she feels like she's losing her only friend and only connection to her dad. The self-destructive, introspective spiral that follows is -- again -- so terribly relatable. Ro must examine and reexamine her childhood, her choices, her family, her relationships and her future possibilities, although she does most of this through a haze of alcohol first.
With the mutant octopus and mission to Mars, this seems like a scifi world, but it's really just our own world. Sea Change is a novel about loneliness and self-destruction, a coming-of-age in which the promising teen protag is replaced with an angry and isolated heavy drinker. Ro cannot redo her past choices, none of us can, but she's not as trapped as she felt. I just loved reading a coming-of-age that wasn't wildly optimistic, but still showed a turning point, Ro's personal sea change.
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