This Week, I Read… (#10)

25 - The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

#25 – The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, by Sarah Ockler

There’s no lack of fairy-tale retellings to choose from, especially in YA, but since I didn’t have any on my shelves already waiting to be read, I did some research on this task first. By which I mean, I found several lists on Tumblr of retellings, and on all of them, this was the only version of The Little Mermaid.  (There are seriously a dozen Beauty and the Beast rehashes out there. I read one last year, I’m not eager to dive into another.)

So it has uniqueness on its side. Throw in a POC lead and an interesting blurb, and I was sold on giving this one a try.

And I was not disappointed. There are so many things this story does so, so well.

But first, I’d like to address the elephant in the room: Google your characters’ names before you publish.  (I know I did, and I discarded quite a few last names for my leads because of it.)

I realize this is marketed to a much younger target audience than me. I realize your average teenager these days hasn’t seen Angel.  But every time I read the name “Christian Kane,” I wasn’t seeing the young, swoon-worthy boat captain making come-hither eyes at Elyse or playing with his younger brother Sebastien.

I was seeing the actor, Christian Kane.

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(I knew in a vague way that he’s a musician as well as an actor, but I didn’t realize when I went looking for an image to use that I’d find so many involving long hair, leather jackets, and guitars. Did it just get warmer in here? Anyway, this one’s from his Angel days, though he’s done plenty of stuff since–but he’ll always be conniving Lindsey McDonald to me.)

Moving on, let’s talk about what impressed the hell out of me in this book.  The sexuality.

No, I don’t mean sex scenes.  If I want steamy action, I’m heading for erotic romance, not YA. The sexuality. There’s a difference.

Elyse comes to realize through the course of the story that she lost a lot of things in the accident, much more than her voice, and so much of what happens is her trying to get herself back.

Including her colloquial groove.

Carnivale is mentioned again and again in her memory, and despite the hyper-sexualization of that festival by American media, it doesn’t come across that way here. Rather, it’s an integral part of Elyse’s history, and her memories of it are all tinged with a sort of bittersweet longing, for the joy of singing and the ease of herself in her own body.

She dances alone on the shoreline to get some of that back. Then there’s all the smoldering looks between her and Christian, then the kisses…

Honestly, I’ve never read a female protagonist that’s more sex-positive.  Elyse isn’t a virgin when the story starts, and she’s utterly comfortable with that. When it comes up in a personal conversation with her cousin and their friend, the teasing banter about their relative sexual experiences is light and good-natured instead of derogatory. Even when she’s pondering the rumors about Christian and his string of alleged summer conquests, she’s not censuring him in her thoughts–she’s only concerned that she might become one of them, instead of having a deeper emotional attachment. But she never criticizes him for it.

And Christian? The perfect picture of someone who’s all for enthusiastic consent. When he does cross a line, even if it’s only just a toe, he admits he’s in the wrong, apologizes, and steps back.

Their relationship never felt forced, the progression seemed entirely natural, and for all the articles I’ve read decrying sex in YA, well, this is such a good example to set for young people who don’t yet have experiences of their own to draw from.

For all that, I enjoyed this story, but I didn’t love the ending, so I didn’t love the story.  I’m glad I read it, and I recommend it, but I don’t think I’ll be buying my own copy.

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2 thoughts on “This Week, I Read… (#10)

  1. I have got to find a way to get back to your blog more often. Your reviews are my favorite. A teen with a healthy attitude about sex? What a novel idea. Agreed, Beauty and the Beast is overdone. Who needs retellings anyway when the trope exists everywhere around us? Older, fatter, sloppier, whatever-not-together guy ends up with the beautiful girl. Done. If the roles were reversed and the GIRL was the beast, now that I might like to read. . . if it works.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind retellings if they bring something fresh to the story, but B&B especially never seems to get anything new, which is why I specifically went out of my way for something less played out. Though I agree a gender-swapped version could have some charm, if handled well…

      Liked by 1 person

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