Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Teenage Mermaid (book) by Ellen Schreiber

Spencer almost drowns in a surfing accident but is rescued and saved with a kiss of life given by someone he thought looked like a mermaid. Whatever she is, she's the girl of his dreams, and Spencer is determined to find her. The only clue he's got is the silver heart locket he accidentally took from her.

Lily is a mermaid who's fascinated by humans, beings which most mermaids view as lesser creatures. One day, she breaks her own people's rules and reveals herself in order to rescue a human boy. Unfortunately, she loses her heirloom locket in the process. When she spots the signs asking for the "golden-haired beauty who saved my life" to come to Seaside High Stadium for a thank you, she knows she has to go see this boy in order to get her locket back. Lily and her friend Waverly manage to get hold of a potion that will give a mermaid legs for a few hours - the catch is that if the mermaid stays out too long, he or she will be stuck on land forever, having forgotten how to breathe in the water.

In Schreiber's world, life as a mermaid is exactly like life as a human, only underwater with a few things named differently (and pet dolphins instead of pet dogs). I would've preferred it if things had been a little different, but I suppose it was funny how much mermaids looked down on beings who are exactly like them. Lily was so much like the super-confident, popular type that it wasn't really surprising that Spencer thought she'd end up dating one of the school jocks after she got her locket back from him. Actually, I thought that Spencer was more interesting than Lily, despite the fact that the book focused slightly more on her than it did on him (the book alternated between chapters from Spencer's perspective and chapters from Lily's perspective). I liked how he changed his hair color every week or so, and I liked his somewhat shaky confidence when it came to life outside of surfing (he's not one of the popular kids), which was balanced by his determination.

The "fish out of water" aspect was interesting, too, and often funny. Despite Lily's obsession with all things human, she (and mermaids in general) doesn't actually know much about them, so it's difficult for her to blend in properly in the high school classes she accidentally finds herself a part of. Luckily, others assume that she's just a bit weird or trying to be funny, so they don't think anything of it when her answers to class questions are strange. Even Spencer rationalizes anything she does that doesn't quite fit, so he doesn't realize that she's really a mermaid until nearly the end of the book.

Although this was a fun, fast-paced (and short) read, it was very predictable. I'm not just talking about the "you know Lily and Spencer will end up together" aspect - it's a romance, of course they're going to end up together. No, I mean that it was fairly obvious that the potion would be part of the climactic moment (readers are told what can go wrong with it - a mermaid can end up drowning, unable to breathe water), and it's just as obvious what will happen to make everything turn out okay (early on, it's explained that a kiss of love from an Earthee - a human - can save a mermaid and turn that Earthee into a merperson). Yes, right there on page 34, with another 120 or so pages to go, the reader pretty much knows what to expect by the end of the book. It's not very subtle.

Still, the characters are bubbly and likable, the story's lighthearted, and there's a nice mix of fantasy and a high school setting. As long as readers don't expect too much and don't mind a book that doesn't expect them to do much thinking, this isn't too bad of a read. Just as a warning, though, it does end rather abruptly.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Little Mermaid (non-Japanese animation, movie) - In this Disney movie loosely based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, Ariel, a mermaid and the youngest daughter of King Triton, dreams of going on land and being among humans. One day, she makes a deal with a sea witch - in exchange for her voice, she'll be able to walk on land and try to win the heart of the human prince she's fallen in love with. Unfortunately, the sea witch has terrible plans of her own. Those who'd like another story in which a mermaid falls in love with a human and magically acquires legs in order to see him might like this movie.
  • Pichi Pichi Pitch (manga) by Michiko Yokote (story) and Pink Hanamori (art); Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch (anime TV series) - Luchia, a young mermaid, once saved an orphan boy her age from drowning by giving him a magical pearl. Years later, she takes on human form in order to get her pearl back from the boy, but she has to be careful, because she'll turn into foam if she tells him that she was the mermaid who saved him. Those who'd like another story that mixes comedy, magic, and romance between a mermaid and a human boy might like this manga/anime series.
  • Diary of a Radical Mermaid (book) by Deborah Smith - The story focuses on Juna Lee, a spoiled (but not malicious) mer-woman, and Molly Revere, a children's author who doesn't know she has mermaid ancestry. The two fall in love with a couple mer-men and deal with an oil company's plot to ruin the ocean as we know it. Those who'd like another light-hearted story with merfolk, adventure, romance, and humor might like this book. Be aware, however, that this book was written for an adult audience. Also, this is actually book 2 of Smith's Waterlilies series, which began with Alice at Heart (the tone of the first book is very different from this one).
  • Sleeping With the Fishes (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Fred isn't your average mermaid - she's not blond, she's not buxom, and she has a tendency towards crankiness. Even though she can't swim when she's not in her mermaid form, she works at an aquarium, trying to convince the fish to eat their food. Fred, a marine biologist who goes all fanboy when mermaids are mentioned, and Prince Artur, a merman and the High Prince of the Black Sea, join forces in an attempt to figure out what's causing the high levels of toxins in the local seawater. Of course, the marine biologist and the prince are also interested in seducing Fred. Those who'd like another story featuring humor, romance, and mermaids might like this book. Be aware, however, that this book was written for an adult audience.
  • Dancing With an Alien (book) by Mary Logue - Tonia, a 17-year-old, saves a young man named Branko from drowning and finds out that he comes from another planet, one where the entire female population has been wiped out. Branko was sent to Earth to find a female willing to go back with him and repopulate his planet, but he didn't anticipate falling in love with the one he finds. No matter what choice Branko makes, whether to take Tonia with him to his planet so that she can become a baby factory or leave her on her own planet so that she can live a normal life, he will have to give up his love for her. Those who'd like another story involving a watery rescue and romance between a human and a non-human might like this book. This book is a great deal less light-hearted than Schreiber's story.

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