Photographer, book reviewer, mama, cat-lover in Seattle. Originally from England.
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School library volunteer at my son's K8 school. Member of ALA and YALSA.
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'The Mermaid' has immediately gone onto my favorites list, so I can tell you right away that this book is an absolute treat.
When I grabbed my early copy of it at Emerald City Con at the weekend, I hadn't heard it was coming out, so I certainly didn't harbor any expectations for it, and to be honest, I'm not even a big fan of fairytale retellings. Plus I had to dispel any recent images of killer mermaids I still had in my head after reading 'Into the Drowning Deep’ by Mira Grant, and I thought this would be the perfect way to do that.
'The Mermaid' is a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who wasn't content enough with life in the ocean so she decided that life on land, with a man called Jack, who she feels is the love of her life, was where she needed to be. Amelia was able to come and go from the sea as she pleased, and it seemed as though her life was everything she needed it to be...until Jack grew old (and she didn't). She was then discovered by the great P.T. Barnum. The same P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus Company, who is famous for coining the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute."
That's where Amelia's life completely changed, and the story of the mermaid becomes loosely based off the 'Feejee Mermaid' hoax that Barnum orchestrated. Author Christina Henry obviously did a lot of research to include details about Joice Heth and Tom Thumb (reading the novel will make this all clear!); I found all of this, and all Barnum's various 'humbugs' to be absolutely fascinating (and shocking).
Through the eyes of Amelia, who is essentially a stranger, 'an alien' to this foreign modern world that is New York circa 1840, she questions all sorts of things: why wear all the silly trappings of clothes, why are women not afforded the same rights as men, why are animals treated so poorly, why are people who are not white or Christian 'savages', and so on. And she dares to question her new 'employer' Barnum*, who basically is raking in the dough with her mermaid exhibit.
*I have no idea what to make of P.T.Barnum as a person or character, but Henry does say this rendition is the one that suits her story.
There is so much to love about this book: the wonderful characters who fit within the actual mold that was cast, but who now have been brought to life, the writing of Henry's that seems to flow so beautifully and seems so befitting of the time, and all the questions and ideas that spring off the pages through the character of the mermaid Amelia.
And then there's the idea of the mermaid herself, something we think we have an idea about, and here it is done again; I felt like what I was reading was subtle and ethereal, and in the way that that Amelia was trying to show her reality within the book to others, I was being made to believe it too. There are also themes of sadness, loss, and longing, new love, and acceptance, in the book, and I felt those emotions from the characters clearly. It was wonderful to read all of that and move along with the feelings like waves.
Absolutely wonderful book. I already want to own whatever special edition is made. And the Funko Pop.
I received free books from Penguin Random House in exchange for this review. Thank you!