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Gothic tale set in Barcelona raises goosebumps.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Marina is set in Barcelona during 1979 and 1980, and it delivers a vivid portrait of the city at that time. The story hints at the aftereffects of World War II and the legacy of the Franco years in Spain, but the plot is primarily focused on the travails of Oscar, Marina, and German.

Positive messages

In its depiction of the relationship between its main characters, Marina emphasizes the importance of friendship and compassion. It also demonstrates the folly of playing God and exacting vengeance.

Positive role models

Oscar skips school and neglects his studies, but he's entranced by Marina and her fragile father, German. Together, they try to protect each other from poverty, illness, and loneliness.


A strong current of violence runs through Marina, especially toward the end. The novel includes many chases through the sewers, and there's a fatal gunfight, arson, and death by a broken neck. In general, the novel's horrific aspects are not described in great detail.


Oscar has a powerful crush on Marina, but she rebuffs his awkward advances for most of the novel. Ultimately, they're able to express their chaste affection for each other, and there's one kiss. 


A handful of uses of "damn," "hell," and "bastard."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Oscar's adventures take him into an after-hours bar. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Marina is a gothic novel featuring death, madness, and deformity. Set in Barcelona on the cusp of the 1980s, it features many of the trappings of gothic literature: doomed love, scientific experiments gone awry, monstrous creatures, and trips through the sewers. Sexual content is limited to a crush and one kiss, and there are only a handful of uses of "damn," "hell," and "bastard." There's a fair amount of violence, including fatal gunfights, stabbings, and a theater fire. 

What's the story?

While exploring the back streets of Barcelona in the late 1970s and escaping the drudgery of his boarding school, 15-year-old Oscar Drai discovers a mysterious residence occupied by a girl named Marina and her sickly father, German. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery, where they witness a macabre ritual that takes place on the final Sunday of each month: A woman dressed in a black shroud places a single rose on an unmarked grave. From that encounter, the children embark on a hair-raising adventure that takes them into a mysterious labyrinth beneath the city's streets and embroils them in a tale of corruption and tragedy that harks back three decades.

Is it any good?


MARINA is a novel that indulges in big themes and sweeping gestures. Its plot is fairly implausible, but author Carlos Ruiz Zafon gets away with its preposterousness through sheer conviction and manipulative emotion. Fans of gothic literature will appreciate its themes of madness, doomed love, and scientific experiments gone awry, and the final chapters are likely to bring a tear to the eye. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what "gothic literature" means. Why do you think the genre has remained popular for so many decades?

  • When people refer to a book as a "cult classic," what do they mean? Can a book's reputation change over time?


  • What other horror novels have you read? How does this one compare? 

Book details

Author:Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:July 22, 2014
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 18
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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