Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt–After The Last Page Review

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

The Stats

  • 355 Pages
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Slight Mystery
  • Older Narrator
  • Multiple POVs
  • Sea Creature/Nature
  • Discussions of family separations
  • Debut Novel

“Humans. For the most part, you are dull and blundering. But occasionally, you can be remarkably bright creatures.”

Shelby Van Pelt, Remarkably Bright Creatures (350)


Tova Sullivan has been living alone since her husband died. She takes comfort in her routine, from meeting up with her group of friends, the Knit-Wits, to working night shift cleaning the Sowell Bay aquarium. Keeping busy has always helped her cope with her emotions, and after mysteriously losing her 18-year-old son, and then her husband, coping is all Tova is left with.

Cameron Cassmore has lost his way—or, I suppose, he would have if he had ever found it in the first place. Abandoned by his mother at a young age and never knowing his father, Cameron has never been a family man. That is, until his Aunt Jeanne gives him a box of his mother’s things and he finds a mysterious ring that leads him right to Sowell Bay and hopefully, an inheritance that will make his lonely childhood worth the pain.

Brought together by Sowell Bay Aquarium’s Giant Pacific Octopus, Remarkably Bright Creatures is the story of both Tova and Cameron and the important lessons they have yet to learn. Ever the detective, Marcellus the octopus is determined to unearth the truth to both characters before it’s too late.

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.


3.5/5 Stars

With it’s gorgeous bright cover, and the fantastic praise from authors like Helen Hoang, I knew I had to get my hands on Remarkably Bright Creatures the day it released. I was SO excited for this book and it’s rare that I find a debut novel so hyped up on other popular sites like SheReads, so I knew that this book was going to be something special.

I think I expected this book to be mostly about Marcellus, the octopus, especially considering he’s on the cover. Yet, Marcellus only plays a small role to this story—instead, this is the story of Tova and Cameron and the journey that the two of them have been through before meeting each other.

As always, I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but it’s important to note that Cameron and Tova do meet in order to talk about this book the way it needs to be discussed.

Firstly, I have to say that I loved Tova. I was not expecting to have a mature narrator and I loved it. I have never read a book with an older narrator like this and I wasn’t sure how I would like it. There were some moments that I felt connected with her that I wasn’t expecting. Her character felt like a close grandparent or relative—the kind that you visit as often as you can. I wasn’t expecting her role to be so lonely and solitary. For me, it really brought a new meaning and understanding to the idea of widows and the amount of respect they deserve for having to start all over after losing a life partner.

While characters and their development are the shining star in this novel, I did not love Cameron. I felt like he got an ending that he didn’t deserve. I’ve known people like Cameron and I find that they never gain respect or understanding—there’s never that “aha” moment for arrogant people, and that’s exactly what Cameron is. He has a sense of entitlement that brings him to Sowell Bay and he’s hoping to find something unrealistic. In fact, up until the time of the storyline, his entire outlook is unrealistic. I think his ending was too clean for my taste. In reality, Cameron would not have had the ending he did because characters like his are often unable to change.

I think the biggest note I have for this book is the structure of the story. I thought the way the author structured the novel and the multiple POVs was a little strange and it took a bit to catch on. Yet, as soon as the reader catches on how the two characters are connected, the rest of the book becomes extremely predictable. It’s very obvious what will happen from that point forward, though that didn’t necessarily make the book any less enjoyable for me.


Overall, I thought Remarkably Bright Creatures was a charming story. While it’s plotline is somewhat predictable, the characters are very well developed and the details are exceptional for a debut novel.

I really enjoyed Van Pelt’s ability to create moments with minor characters that help enrich the protagonists. These small moments bring to life important foreshadowing for the main characters, but they also help the reader gain an understanding for the town and community around the aquarium, as well.

I expected Marcellus the octopus to the be star of this novel, but the real star in this plot is Tova and the things she learns about herself from working with Marcellus. While I won’t go into too much detail, I found this novel to be a quick read that was enjoyable to get through. There are definitely some lessons to be learned from this novel and there are important notes on family that I think any reader would be able to relate with.

As a reader, I think there were a few things I would have liked to see Van Pelt improve on in this novel, but it’s clear that Remarkably Bright Creatures as been hyped up on book sites for a reason. This is going to be a fantastic summer read for so many readers and the cover just makes it a perfect addition to any Instagram vacation. I will definitely be following Van Pelt and patiently awaiting her next novel, as I’m sure after this one, she will be a cherished author among many readers.

You can order Shelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures on Amazon here.

Not sure what to read next? Check out my last review, It Ends With Us, by clicking here.


  1. Your review described this book really great as have several other reviews I’ve seen, but there’s one thing—and maybe it’s just a minor thing— that all of the reviews I’ve seen so far totally miss—and that’s the element of Norse mythology in this fantastic allegory. One particular symbol is the Swedish Dara horse(s) mentioned almost happenstance throughout the book really hints at it. Sleipnir being the eight legged horse of Odin and quite evocative of Marcellus, because besides being eight-leggy and telepathic with thoughts, has this very much in common: they both travelled between realms, not only between places like from the sea to the land, but between the realms of the living and the dead. Anyway, I can’t help but wondering if the author had this in mind and if there’s any other myths/allegories that I missed. I just wish that I could ask her. Anyway, thanks for reading.

    1. Sheryle,

      Thank you for commenting! What a thoughtful comment, I had not considered the symbolism of the Dala horse to Tova’s story. While I’m not entirely familiar with the mythology of the Dala horse, I can see exactly what you are saying. One of my favorite things about reading (and discussing with others) is getting to share tidbits like this! It certainly helps me learn more, but it also enhances my perspective of the book, as well.
      Happy Reading!

    2. I never knew about that character in Norse mythology. I’m not sure even the author was away, but that’s brilliant. Thank you.

  2. On my comment of 6/1/22 I need to make a spelling correction—it’s Dala horse—with an “l” instead of an “r.”

  3. I listened on audiobook so missed several major points- 1) how did Eric die (meaning of cut anchor line) 2) how did Cameron find out that Simon wasn’t his father? 3) why dud it take so long to figure out initials on class ring? Why didn’t Tova know her son had a girlfriend? There are three generations of mysteries here that got tangled for me. Who is the father of Avery’s child? Missing parents is a theme. Love the octopus.

  4. Thank you for your review. I do take issue with your opinion of Cameron. I feel a lot of his “sense of entitlement “ was pure show. He did feel very grateful to his aunt and was compelled to pay her back – with interest.
    In addition, his relationship with Tova, Terry, and even Ethan help him to grow and become more confident and assured and willing to improve. I’m glad he got the “happy” ending of finding his grandmother, and I’m happy for Tova.

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