As an Amazon Prime member, I can choose a free book or two to read every month. I don’t always take advantage of those offers but Carrie Anne Noble’s debut novel, The Mermaid’s Sister, caught my eye this month. It’s a YA novel suitable for middle school readers and up and, like many YA novels, is also going to appeal to young-at-heart adults who like fairy tales. It’s about family and relationships, ignorance and intolerance, and, at its heart, it’s about love and letting go. Sound interesting?
“Wishing gets you nothing.
These words are old wounds carved into the trunk of the ancient tree. Above the vandal’s warning, the tree stretches evergreen limbs across the glassy-surfaced Wishing Pool. Below, its dark roots twist and trail into the water.”
Clara and Maren are sixteen-year-old sisters who live on remote Llanfair Mountain in Pennsylvania in 1870 with their part-fairie Auntie, who isn’t their biological aunt at all. For that matter, Clara and Maren aren’t biological sisters either. They were foundlings who were informally adopted by Auntie. But none of that matters because the three of them love each other as much as, if not more than, any family. Clara and Maren are like two peas in a pod, so close that they can finish each other’s sentences.
Clara was brought to Auntie as a tiny infant by a stork, literally, and the tiny infant Maren was found lying inside a conch shell. That may sound like just another family myth or a version of the cabbage patch story but in this case, it’s the literal truth. And Clara has been mulling over those foundling stories a lot because, well, Maren is beginning to change. She’s always loved the water but now? Now, she’s beginning to slowly look more and more like a mermaid – kid you not. Her fingers and toes are becoming webbed and she’s spending more and more time in the water.
That has Clara concerned for a couple of reasons. If Maren is turning into a mermaid, does this mean Clara will turn into a stork? She doesn’t want to be a stork and, most of all, she doesn’t want Maren to become a mermaid because if she does then Clara will lose her forever to the sea. Auntie is a healer but she says there’s nothing she can do to prevent Maren’s destiny – she can only make her as comfortable as possible while her transformation is taking place and then find some way to reunite her with her merfolk in the sea.
“’My, my,’ Auntie mutters.
Beneath a layer of alabaster skin I see rows of pale green scales, starting just at the dainty curve of Maren’s waist. Delicate scales, small and silver-edged.
I am on my feet before I know it. I reach out and touch my sister’s side, feeling the ridges. They are real, not a trick of the light as I’d hoped…
’Auntie?’ I whisper. ‘Can you cure her? Should I fetch the remedy book?’ Auntie is famous among the folk of the mountain for the medicines she concocts from our herb gardens and the bounty of the forest.
‘No, child.’ Auntie’s voice is gentle but firm. ‘You know I cannot. There is no cure for being who you truly are.’”
“’Was it my true father?’ She has never said so before, but perhaps today she might tell me more.
‘No, not your father, dear. A stork brought you, Clara mine. You know this. The most beautiful stork I’d ever seen.’
Raised with just enough magic to unquestionably assume that someday I would become a stork, I had never before found the story particularly disturbing. But on this day, with the evidence of Maren’s transformation before my eyes and beneath my fingertips, I give way to panic. ‘Auntie, are you saying that one day I’ll sprout wings like Maren is sprouting scales?’
‘I said nothing of the kind, Clara my dear.’ Auntie lovingly caresses the top of my head. ‘You worry too much. Worrying gets you nothing.’”
As Maren changes, it become harder and harder to find ways to keep her in the conditions she needs to survive. By the time she reaches the pinnacle of her transformation, Clara has resigned herself to what must be. When it becomes apparent Maren will not survive outside of the sea, no matter what curatives and attempts Auntie makes, they know they must get her to the sea or she will perish. And that is why Clara and O’Neill, the adopted son of a tinker who visits the family regularly, set out on the tinker’s caravan. O’Neill loves the two sisters as if they were his own and would do anything to help them.
“’I came from the sea, and to the sea I must return,’ Maren says, as nonchalantly as one might say, ‘Two plus two equals four.’
‘Indeed,’ Auntie says. ‘Did I ever tell you otherwise?’
‘Never,’ Maren says, looking quite pleased.”
Although they know their family is not like other families, they have not bargained for just how different they seem to others. What they also have not bargained for are the dangers that will be posed along the way, dangers disguised as helpful and even kind strangers. What will become of the three of them? Can they overcome the harm this does to them? Do they even have a hope of getting Maren to the sea before she shrinks away into nothing?
Clara is the narrator of this tale and she’s one spunky heroine. I liked her immediately. Although she loves Maren, she hates the very thought of losing someone she considers her other half. Clara also has a crush on O’Neill so she’s not at all happy with Maren’s almost siren-like ability to lure in not just O’Neill but every other male in her vicinity. Talk about a sisterly conflict. Maren is serene and accepting of her rightful destiny, and is anxious to get where she needs to be to become who she is. O’Neill is a character who grew on me as I got to know him, and one I came to like a lot. The villains are definitely snake-in-the-grass villains. Oh, and did I mention their blue pet wyvern, Osbert? Let’s just call him the comic relief.
Make no mistake about it: The Mermaid’s Sister is a fairy tale written for middle school and high school age readers so it may seem simplistic to some adults, although it sneaks in issues like what makes a family, hate/intolerance, people treated like objects, and how society views difference. Maybe it’s because it’s a fairy tale that some reviewers have found issue with the narration’s present tense. I had no problem with a “once upon a time” past tense being missing so I think that’s a non-issue. I really enjoyed it even though I was aware that its writing was simpler than I might have liked normally. It made for a refreshing break from the heavier books I often read. If you’re looking for that kind of read then I hope you’ll like The Mermaid’s Sister as much as I did!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Mermaid’s Sister was published on March 1, 2015 so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below, or in the right column for iBooks. And the e-book format is a bargain price at only $4.99.
I’d love to get your comments on The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Anne Noble, and/or this review.
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