The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Nobel was a very sweet story. This is a story that I will freely admit that I listened to, and it was a fairly quick listen at only 7 hours and 37 minutes. This is a YA, but I think it’s meant for the younger side of YA; on audible.com it’s target audience is ages 11-13. I mention this because when the book first begins it has the feeling of a middle grade novel and the main character’s speech has a very strange feeling of mature and yet immature to it, like the girl is actually 13 and not the 16 that she’s supposed to be.
It’s a great story about expected loss, which left me with the enchanted feeling that the author was creating a fantastical allegory for young readers to help them deal with loved ones with a terminal illness; although I assure you, this story is far from being about death in this sense. But the main character deals with very similar emotions because Clara is about to loose her sister Maren forever due to her transformation into a mermaid.
A WriterAlina Book Review
The Mermaid’s Sister
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the fact that Clara is often referred to as “the mermaid’s sister,” which I thought was a cool emphasis on the book’s title. And as you go through the book, the phrase holds various meanings both good and insulting depending on he circumstances and who states it. But Clara never truly identifies with the phrase because in her eyes Maren isn’t just a mermaid, she’s her sister.
This summary comes from the “publisher’s summary” section of The Mermaid’s Sister.
“There is no cure for being who you truly are.…
In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.
One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.
And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?”
The Story and It’s Delivery
As I said before, The Mermaid’s Sister is a very sweet story and it’s told from Clara’s first person perspective. And as I said before the perspective was a little off-putting in the beginning, there was no sure sixteen year-old voice here. Sometimes Clara’s voice would be very childish as if she were an awkward pre-teen and other times like she was an eighteen year-old who is a product of conservative 19th Century morals. I kept wondering, while I was listening, why doesn’t Clara sound more like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables? I realize that the author wanted the reader to think Clara as someone who believes in magic and has fantastical notions but at the same time is shy, polite, proper, and loves her sister greatly, but the combination came across forced and unnatural.
What I loved about the story being in Clara’s perspective was the in-depth knowledge you glean as the reader of her devotion to her sister Maren and the display of Clara’s complex feelings about her sister’s inevitable departure from the family and reinstatement to the ocean. And this, more than anything else is what encouraged me to continue with The Mermaid’s Sister. This is the aspect of the story that I enjoyed for its potential emotional allegory of loosing a loved one to terminal illness or gradual passing.
As the story continues the reader also meets O’Neill, Clara and Maren’s childhood friend. He becomes one more complication in Clara’s life as she realizes that she has feelings for him and we get a slightly different take on the dreaded “love triangle.” Here both girls have feeling for O’Neill and since Clara never really expresses her love outright to O’Neill we never really know his true feelings of which sister he favors more until the end of the story. It’s a nice use of misinformation because much of what the reader knows is what Clara thinks to herself and how she interprets the actions of those around her.
Once it becomes obvious that Maren must be taken to the ocean and be reunited with other merpeople. Clara and O’Neill take it upon themselves to “save” Maren, whether that means setting her free in the ocean or begging the mermaid king for Maren’s life as a human. This is the point where the story becomes an more of an adventure and less of an emotional allegory of loss. Even though this misadventure is revealed in the publisher’s summary, in practice it felt almost out of place, like an adventure was needed in order force the changes needed to make Clara look like a hero, even though the mere fact that Clara takes on the task of taking her sister to the ocean to say good-by is a heroic act. But come on this is a teen story and we need some action! Besides we also need some additional romance action going on right?
The only other thing I have to say about the way the story is told is the use of modern vernacular in the story. The story is supposed to be taking place in the late 1800s and much of the dialogue feel too modern. It’s great for modern children to be swept away into the story, but it lacks authenticity for the time in which the story is supposed to be told. Again, I think of the language used in Anne of Green Gables and wonder why couldn’t the author use that as template for how people bantered. For especially the banter between O’Neill and the two girls was much more modern sounding than I was expecting. To be honest the only thing that wasn’t “modern” about any of the interactions was Clara’s insistence on the modesty and manners of the time.
The most illuminating and heartfelt character in The Mermaid’s Sister is Clara herself. Maren is interesting in that her personality changes slightly as she becomes more and more mermaid. O’Neill wasn’t anything special but he had an intriguing backstory and had a kind heart and zest for life. I enjoyed him for his prospects as a love interest. But if I think about it, I really didn’t feel that his character changed much over the course of the story, even though he wasn’t the one who saved the day at the end. (Which as storytellers we all know that the hero or heroine of the story needs to say the day at the end right?) But the book is short and we’re in Clara’s POV so we can’t get much deeper than the surface of other people’s actions and intentions.
Clara on the other hand is compelling and complicated. Setting aside her confusing mature/immature attitudes, she has complex and conflicting emotions about both Maren and O’Neill. She loves her sister with a passion, she’s angered and devastated over the fact that Maren is turning into a mermaid and must leave the family forever, whether that be in death or release into the ocean. She feels happy for her sister’s happiness and at the same time secretly harbors jealousy and guilt. And after she realizes her deeper feelings for O’Neill her emotions are further torn at the seams because she knows that Maren also loves O’Neill and doesn’t want to come between them. This is what makes the love triangle in this story bearable. Clara takes the moral approach of supporting her sister and depreciating herself for her unrequited love.
A Word Or Two About World Building
I would categorize The Mermaid’s Sister as Historical Magical Realism because this really is a story that is historical fiction with fantastical elements inserted in like mermaids, wyverns, and faeries. Ultimately the story is about two sisters (it’s just one of them just happens to be a mermaid). The setting, the dress, the people are all late 1800s and the actions of the characters reflect the morals and immoralities of that time.
Much of the beginning of the book is spent convincing the reader that there really is magic and that it must be hidden from the normal folk as it is explaining who Clara and Maren are. This isn’t a bad thing, because this is supposed to be the real world, less time needs to be spent explaining the rest of the world because it’s assumed that the reader is already has a rudimentary understanding of what the 1800s in New England America could be like.
If you are interested in some heavily emotional reading that turns a little lighter as the story goes on, then this could be a good read for you. Be aware that this is not a fantasy per say, this story is magical realism and is well done for the genre.
For sure, if you are interested in a story of a girl’s struggle with the inevitable loss of her sister and the lengths she goes to ensure her sister’s happiness then this story will be right up your alley.
Have you ever read The Mermaid’s Sister? Did I inspire you to pick up Carrie Anne Nobel’s The Mermaid’s Sister yourself? What are your thoughts on magical realism? Do you enjoy it as much as fantasy? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.