My Thoughts: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler

According to my research, this is Sarah Ockler’s latest book, and not necessarily her most popular. And even though I’d never heard of her before I randomly downloaded this (simply because I liked the cover and the title after seeing it on someone’s book blog), I am going to be extremely unfounded and biased, and say it should be her most popular. Before I even finished this book, there were reasons which, when put together, meant that I couldn’t possibly have disliked it.

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  1. It’s a fairytale remix! Yep, The Little mermaid. There was even a Sebastian and an Ursula in it. But do you know me and fairytales? Do you know me and fairytale remixes? Wo boa kraa. Once Upon A Time, most books by Alex Flinn, Cinder by Marissa Meyer…If there are fairytales involved, you’ve trapped me already.
  2. It’s YA fiction! Now, I had a lot of heavy, deeply profound fiction at my disposal, but I needed a book to read at a time when I was far too stressed out to decipher language involving racial, classist, political, societal issues, designed for readers 25 and above. That’s not what my brain wants when it needs rest. The fantastic thing about YA fiction is that it manages to be entertaining without being daft, and because of its target audience, you can tell that they’re not trying to fall into criteria that makes them eligible for a Pulitzer or a Caine prize or whatever.
  3. There was mythology involved! Do you know me and mythology? LOL, everything by Rick Riordan, Disney’s Hercules, et cetera. The deity involved here was the Syrian goddess (of whom I didn’t know before reading this), Atargatis, the goddess of fertility who is usually portrayed with a fish tail. The book compromised a bit on the identity of Atargatis that I read about from outside sources, but that’s fine with me. Fiction doesn’t have to be a history book. You can tweak the truth as much as you can tweak the myth.

Here’s the basic background of the story: A Tobagonian girl called Elyse d’Abreau had a near-fatal birth (the irony. Anyway, it was fatal actually – her mother died.) in the sea, and years later, a tragic accident involving a near-drowning experience which stole her voice. There was a surgery afterwards and her voice suffered permanent damage, making her mute. (As mute as Ariel when Ursula stole her voice. Except, in this book Ursula isn’t the bad-guy.) It was particularly devastating because she and her twin sister, Natalie, were planning their futures as world-famous singers.

Unable to deal with the emotional pain, she left Trinidad and Tobago to live with her aunt Ursula and her cousin Kirby. There, she meets Christian Kane, Stanford student, perfect guy, player of the century. The classic YA boy a YA-loving teenage girl will fall in love with. (Stop giving me side-eyes. Yes, I’m guilty.) And a bunch of stuff happens. It’s really fun.

I love how relaxed the book was. Even the most urgent scenes were quietly tense, not like action-movie-ish. Quietly tense? LOL, that must be why: the main character can’t be anything but quiet.  Haha. Bad joke? Okay. Sorry.

Sarah Ockler’s writing greatly impressed me. It was in no way dumbed-down or daft. In fact, words and expressions were very deliberately chosen. Throughout the whole book, there was all this beach and sea imagery. It was all so glaringly obvious; yet I feel that some readers may miss 50% of the wordplay. Heck, I might even have missed way more than I realized. But I thought it was fantastic that she had a punny, metaphorical theme going through the ENTIRE book. That’s actually really hard work.

Of course, if you’re interested, there was all that exciting, hot romance stuff that’s characteristic of a lot of YA fiction.

Some gender stuff was brought up, which I felt was noteworthy. The main character signed up to be the first mate to Christian Kane in a regatta, and the misogyny in certain characters was really brought out. A girl can’t be a sailor? A girl can’t be a “pirate”? Also, Christian’s little brother, Sebastian, is shunned for doing supposedly effeminate things like liking mermaids and wanting to dress as one (complete with the seashell bra) in a mermaid parade. It was all interesting, thought-provoking stuff, that was just deep enough to get a teenager thinking.

A note to prospective readers: there are a lot of questions you may ask, which will remain unanswered by the time the book ends. You may be dissatisfied like I was at first. But later on, after a period of reflection, I’ve decided I’m cool with the unanswered questions, because of how the omission certain details of the past shines a brighter spotlight on the events of the fictional present.

A few (a lot of) favourite quotes:

  • I’d seen bodies defy words, how a person’s eyes and hands revealed truths their mouths were trying so desperately to deny.

  • Crying never brought anything back from the dead. It only felt like the ocean trying to drown you from the inside out.

  • That’s what happens when you see yourself through someone else’s mirror, Elyse. You build your dreams for them, ignoring your own heart. One day you wake up and wonder how the fire went out.

  • Treacherous as the sea, yet fragile as a bubble.

  • …I realised just how many people would rather leave without their due than try to make conversation with a mute.

  • …she’d spent so much time cultivating an image, the real her was pushed down, locked away deep inside.

  • Voice and speech aren’t the same thing. You’ve lost your ability to speak, to sing. But the only thing that can take your voice away – your true voice – is you.

  • Anger was easier to hold, to focus on, than grief. Anger was sharp-edged and clear. Grief was messy, blurry. But in the end both left you hollowed out inside.

  • Sorry for all the little ways that the people who were supposed to love us most could hurt us so deeply, despite their shared heritage and blood, as though their knowledge of our pasts gave them unlimited access to all the most tender places, the old wounds that could be so easily reopened with no more than a glance, a comment, a passing reminder of all the ways in which we’d failed to live up to their expectations.

  • Sometimes love was a tonic. Sometimes it was a weapon. And so often it was nearly impossible to tell the difference.

  • Putting a thing to words gave it power; it pulled the maybe from the mist and gave it form, solid and black.

  • The sign of a deep connection wasn’t necessarily outward affection, but silence. The ability to sit still with another, wholly aware of him, neither needing nor desiring anything but his presence, the shape of him, his breath in the air between you.

And finally, a poem by the narrator:

“For all the strength of men,

And the divine power of their gods

But for a spell in a pale blue dream

Not even the wisest among them

Can harness the silver moon

Nor cease with thoughts or words

The beating of their own fragile hearts.”

 

In summary: This book was beautiful! Read it!

-Akotowaa

Update: I don’t know how I missed this thing that I had meant to add but somehow forgot: the aspect of diversity. The author is white, yes, but the fact that the narrator is Tobagonian and speaks of home a lot makes a reader at least a little curious about what life and culture is in Trinidad and Tobago, and so I think that’s a fun way of fuelling diversity and curiousity of other people’s cultures. For example, I’d like to find out more about all those festivals, and what soca music is, et cetera.

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