On a chilly February afternoon, I picked up a book titled Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Instantly, I was captured. The book begins with narration from a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus McSquiddles—much to his chagrin, for he is not a squid. As the story progresses, we also read from the point of view of an older Swedish woman named Tova and a man in his thirties named Cameron, or Cam for short. Van Pelt weaves a heartfelt narrative with captivating characters and storylines, making this book impossible to put down.

The premise of the novel revolves around Tova. After her husband Will died, she began working the night shift as a janitor at her local aquarium, the Sowell Bay Aquarium, to keep busy. Keeping busy has long been Tova’s strategy for grieving, one she had employed after the disappearance of her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, many years before. While working at the aquarium, she forms a bond with Marcellus, who has a habit of sneaking out of his tank at Sowell Bay. The octopus manages to deduce what happened years ago when Tova’s son never returned from a sailboat on Puget Sound and consequently must find some way to convey this information to Tova, all while nearing the end of his life. The story evolves into one of hope, unlikely connections, and moving forward from a troubled past.

Something incredibly unique about Remarkably Bright Creatures is that the author makes the reader care about the characters within mere pages of their narration. Each has a distinctive voice, instantly differentiating them from the other characters. Each has struggles, introduced masterfully, that compel the reader to root for them. Van Pelt immediately puts such personality into each character that it is no exaggeration to say that the writing is exceedingly captivating, even without its original plotline and witty writing style.

Remarkably Bright Creatures is one of the best books I have ever read. It is thought-provoking but not pretentious, gentle but not boring, and emotional but not over-the-top. Every character and every moment gets its chance to shine. It turns a small town on Puget Sound into a place of mystery, intrigue, and great sadness but also great joy. It is heartfelt, genuine, and, despite telling stories of great tragedy, incredibly uplifting. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt is, at its core, a tale of love, and quite a good one at that.