The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
Published by Simon Pulse on June 1, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary
5 Stars, Completed July 18, 2015
– SPOILER free –
I borrowed The Summer of Chasing Mermaids from the library and had it in my possession for about two weeks before I actually started reading it, right when it was due. There was a long line of readers that put this title on hold (not surprised as to why, now that I’ve finished it) so I wasn’t able to renew it. Therefore I ended up reading this book in a day, hoping the overdue fee would be worth paying. And it was.
Elyse d’Abreau has always had her life mapped out. She was supposed to become a singer, tour with her twin sister around the world, and grow famous. Then one tragic boating accident changes this all and she’s left mute, unable to sing or even speak. Elyse then decides to leave her Caribbean home and seek quiet solitude in Atargatis Cove, an Oregan seaside town named after the mythical first mermaid. There Elyse meets Christian Kane, a charming and ambitious playboy, and his sweet younger brother obsessed with mermaid lore. Elyse’s life changes course once again when she becomes Christian’s first mate in the upcoming Regatta. Along with the sudden camaraderie, Elyse feels a connection with Christian and it seems like he’s the only person that actually hears her. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is a summer adventure about a girl facing her past, finding her inner voice in the present, and, bravely, taking on the future.
This was my first Sarah Ockler book and I was amazed by how beautiful the writing was, which is the main reason why this is earning five stars. Elyse being a singer, her narrative was full of poetic prose, and one that actually made sense and didn’t feel like riddles or purple prose. I mean I’m not even a reader that pays attention to potential quotable lines, but I marked down so many pages in this. Read this and tell me it isn’t lyrical:
“When one dream burns to ash, you don’t crumble beneath it. You get on your hands and knees, and you sift through those ashes until you find the very last ember, the very last spark. Then you breathe. You breathe. You fucking breathe. And you make a new fire.”
Moments like this caught my breath. The plot itself was at times emotionally draining, but when it’s also written well. Oh man, the feels can make you drown.
Aside from lyrical writing, there was so much I was impressed with. I don’t really have a stance when it comes to feminism. I mean I support gender equality and see/agree with feminist perspectives (okay, it sure sounds like I am one), but I myself don’t really think I’m actively a part of the movement or a hardcore activist (so am I a female pro-feminist? That just sounds too weird…). But, I was pleased with the feminism in this. Also, deep issues like sexism and social stigmas such as boys participating in girly activities and vice versa were addressed.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids also did an exceptional job with portraying realism with exploring topics like teenage first love and sex. Christian is a male character that stood out to me compared to other fictional guys in ya literature. He was described to have a history of flings with plenty of girls, but I didn’t really find him to be a playboy. He’s very much boyfriend material for his valor, kindness, and the fact that he’s actually not douche-y or controlling like a lot of ya books tend to illustrate male love interests to be. I’m sure, every reader would have supported Elyse and Christian’s healthy relationship.
Though I approve of their relationship and think Christian to be fictional crush worthy for some readers, I also want to mention it was wonderful that Elyse recognized that love nor a boy “saved” her unlike so many ya books that romanticize first love. Instead she acknowledged how love changed her and made her stronger. /fist pumping the air/
“Love didn’t save me; it changed me. Changed me into someone who could save myself.”
Also, there were other exquisitely constructed but flawed characters aside from Christian. Aunt Lemon, Elyse’s father’s good friend, was very comparable to other motherly figures like Delia in The Truth About Forever to me. She was a friend but also a mentor that offered guidance and support to Elyse when she needed it. Lemon’s daughter, Kirby, and Kirby’s friend, Vanessa, were two friends Elyse learned to trust and confide in, and I enjoyed their roles. I also liked Noah though he was a side character and had less responsibility in the overall story. And though I hated the misogynistic, overbearing men in this, they was essential to the subplots and helped build the arguments against social stigmas and carve the characters that would later take a stand. And, of course, like probably most SoCM readers, I absolutely adored every single appearance little Sebastian made. His adoration for mermaids, naivety for being 5 years old, fearlessness of being himself, and close friendship with Elyse made me smile every time. (He’s my favorite character, obviously.)
And I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this so late in the review but for those that want more diverse books and are a part of that campaign/movement, take a minute and look at that cover. Yes, Elyse is a person of color! I was pretty excited to learn about Trinidad and Tabago. And I did! The cultural depictions were well illustrated. I can’t vouch if they’re accurate because I know nothing about the Caribbean except, well, The Little Mermaid, but the talk about Elyse’s family’s cocoa farm and the beach festivals were interesting.
Oh, and if you couldn’t tell by now this is a loose retelling of The Little Mermaid. I really liked the modern twists and how some inspiration was obviously drawn from the Disney adaptation with the use of the name Ursula, the incorporation of the sea shell necklace for symbolism, and the mention of “lover boy.” I also noticed the moments that Elyse described a blade was deep down her throat and her foot being cut by the sea, to be just like original tale. And Christian. Hans Christian Anderson. Loved that connection too.
As for the potential flaws that readers should consider: The Regatta and commercialization of Atargatis Cove is a big part of the plot and there is quite a few scenes with some boat talk. Also, Elyse is very mopey in the beginning half of the book. However, she grows and there’s great character development. Both of these features can be viewed as shortcomings for some readers but they didn’t bother me.
Lastly, I wanted to end this review positive and share that what really reeled in this perfect rating, like so many other readers have already mentioned, is the overall message: However quiet or unnoticed you may seem. You do have an inner voice. This was a novel about finding one’s voice and taking a stand for what you want and believe in. So despite the melancholy and emotional moments, there were plenty of positive vibes that radiated from The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. This was also a very nostalgic read for me since I live really close to coast and near a couple of beaches. And being a summer gal (get it?) and someone, like Elyse and Christian, that possesses a love for the sea, I really enjoyed the plot. The swoon worthy romance and fluff were huge pluses as well. So 5 solid star(fishe)s for a wonderful summer-y beach read that made me smile, laugh, and cry.