Saturday, June 20, 2015

look at her go: reviewin' reviewin': the summer of chasing mermaids

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids – Sarah Ockler

synopsis: The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them . . .

full non-spoilery review under the cut!  

I'd only read one book by Sarah Ockler before this, it was her novel Bittersweet and it was years ago now. But I am so happy that I decided to pick up her new release. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, in the best way possible. Based on the cover and synopsis, I was expecting a light and fluffy summer romance novel, and what I got was something markedly darker and more complex, which was absolutely the best surprise that could've come from this novel.

Elyse is an interesting narrator for a couple of reasons. One: because she physically cannot speak.  A horrible accident on her home islands of Trinidad and Tobago damaged her vocal chords, rendering her voiceless. I had never read a book from the perspective of a mute person before, and I felt Elyse's frustration as she struggled to find her voice despite the handicap. Another reason that she was interesting was because she grew up in a very different culture from my own: in the islands of the West Indies. I loved reading about her memories of home: the Carnival, celebrations, food and family life of her life before this novel. Elyse is definitely not your typical heroine, and that made reading from her perspective a treat for me.

I really liked the theme of identity and voice in this novel. For Elyse, her singing voice, her words and melodies, were always what defined her. Her music was such an integral part of who she was that, when she lost it, she also lost most of the relationships in her life, simply because she did not know how to relate to people (even her twin sister Natalie) after the accident. Elyse comes to Atargatis Cove because she is running from her former self, but she doesn't quite know how to fit into the world anymore, and throughout the novel, she is trying to speak her mind and move past her accident. For Christian, who is the love interest in this novel, his identity was always defined by his demanding father, someone who micromanaged all of the decisions in Christian's life. As Christian helps Elyse move on from her past tragedies, her quiet support helps him slip out from under his father's thumb, finding his own footing in the world for the first time. This shows up again for Christian's little brother Sebastian, an adorable little boy who is obsessed with mermaids. When his father tries to stifle this part of him, Christian, Elyse and his mother band together to help protect this part of Sebastian's identity. I really liked how the fates of these three characters intertwined, and only through each other could they come into their own.

Ockler makes a very visible point about misogyny in TSOCM, starting from the very beginning of the novel when there is discussion of one of Elyse's eventual friends, Vanessa, starting a "feminist killjoy" club at her school in Texas. This is continued when the mayor of Atargatis Cove approaches Elyse and tries to dissuade her from competing in the town regatta, because it is "a man's sport" (despite her having more experience in sailing than anyone else). (I hated the mayor. He was a pig.) And it shows up again when Sebastian, adorable as he is, tries to dress up and march in the mermaid parade at the Cove. He is blocked on all sides by his father, the mayor and the parade coordinators, simply because is a boy. I love how Ockler portrayed these unfair circumstances as a part of everyday life, and how the characters went against the misogynistic actions of the people around them.

The romance between Elyse and Christian, as I previously mentioned, was something that was beneficial to both of them, allowing them to grow as people. Though, because there was a lot of other things going on in the novel, the romance wasn't, by a long shot, the most important thing going on. Which I actually really appreciated. The attraction and growing bond between the two was evident without Ockler having to go on and on about it, and the way the relationship developed just made sense, like they were made for each other. This also allowed Ockler to focus on the friendships, especially between Elyse and her family friend Lemon, Lemon's daughter Kirby, Vanessa and so on. The friendships were just as important as the romance, which I really enjoyed reading.

Elyse goes on a real journey from being damaged and unsure of herself to eventually being able to, in her own way, find a voice at the end of the novel. Because this is a sort of retelling of The Little Mermaid, I kind of was half-expecting someone to die or for Elyse to get her voice back... (original fairy tale version vs disney version) but despite the presence of some magical realism with Atargatis the mermaid, this was very much a contemporary novel with no evil witches or spells. Though it wasn't what I expected, I truly enjoyed seeing Elyse grow and learn to forgive, leaving the past (mostly) behind her. I felt her frustration and her sadness, and though my heart broke for her again and again, I was so gratified to see her rise above her circumstances and come out better for what she went through. I wish the book was a little bit longer, just so we could have some more closure, but I absolutely loved it!



  1. Great review!! I also agree that ending was a bit abrupt given the strength and nature of the rest of the book but I love how you commented on the double standard and misogyny that Ockler brings to light. My favorite part of the book was probably Sebastian -- he was such a ray of sun!!

    my review of this one

    1. Thank you! Yes, the ending was the only part where I was like "WHAT NO" because I wanted just a few more pages! I love love LOVED Sebastian, he was really the driving force for goodness in this one. :)


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