Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

9781481401272The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler was a) my first read by this author, b) one of my new favourite contemporaries of 2016, and c) an entirely adorable sea cucumber of goodness. I so thoroughly approve of this book! It had everything a summery contemporary needs: excellent characters; lots of boating and beachy scenes; teenagers eating half a universe worth of seafood; and people standing up for what they believe in and using their voice.

I absolutely loved the theme of “use your voice”. Especially since the narrator, Elyse, was mute after an accident. But the book just went onto to underline and prove that there are SO MANY WAYS of speaking up for yourself. And no one ever deserves to be voiceless.

Also this is a modernised retelling of The Little Mermaid! HOW COOL IS THAT, RIGHT?! I’m such a huge fan of retellings and I particularly love this kind — it can stand on its own, or you can look for the little nods to the original. (Like Elyse’s aunt was named Ursula and the love-interest’s little brother was Sebastian. I love it!)

It absolutely wins for the diversity representation too!! Elyse is from Trinidad & Tobago and mute. Also her cousin is half T&T. It’s so refreshing to have characters of colour and books that discuss physical disabilities. HUZZAH. MORE OF IT.

There’s a definite air of mystery about the “accident” too. Since Elyse WILL NOT GIVE DETAILS. I busted half and eyebrow wondering. All we get to know is that a) Elyse nearly drowned, b) she lost her voice forever, and c) it involves her sister which is why Elyse has left T&T and is living with her aunt in the USA. I want aaaaanswers. (Also the reveal was pretty devastating and gloriously written.)

Plus the book discussed equality. Which fills me with GREAT JOY because equality is a big deal and I loved the theme of “speaking up for yourself and others who can’t”. Like Elyse faced prejudice for wanting to sail in the “boys’ pirate regatta”. Sebastian (the love interest’s little 6-year-old brother) wanted to march in the “girls’ mermaid parade”. And the adults were so condescending about refuting them. AGH. It made me so proud to see the teens of the story just PUNCH those rules and keep speaking up for equality. Even if they couldn’t actually speak.

I also really adored Elyse as a character. There’s still plenty of dialogue, of course, and she communicates through writing — but mostly we have her interior thoughts and monologues. And…I just feel like I really know Elyse. She is definitely the kind of person you’d want to be friends with. Elyse was complicated and suffering and trying to piece herself back together after the accident and AHHH I JUST ADMIRE HER BRAVERY SO SO MUCH. Also her relationship with Christian was adorable and so shippable.

Plus the book has just a gorgeous setting. Mostly beachy and slightly witchy (because Elyse’s aunt is all into herbs and tarot cards and organic tea or whatnot). Also excellent writing. Excellent! I just want to go find more by this author and devour it.

Obviously I am a rather rabid fan of this story! I awed at how many characters there were and how they were ALL so dimensional and well-written. But I also crave fish and chips, so thanks for nothing, book. I totally think this book is underrated and deserves more love! It’s empowering and special and full of seaweed. Definitely recommend!

[PURCHASE HERE]

Best YA Novels for 2015 and looking into 2016

a single stoneAustralian YA writing is powerful, fresh and imaginative, creating spaces for thought and wonder. The finest novels from 2015’s field in my view are Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone, an exquisitely written dystopia about lean girls who tunnel through stone. Younger readers in upper primary school can also read it and I hope that it finds a niche as a contemporary classic.

Lili Wilkinson’s Green Valentine is a hilarious tale about popular girl Astrid and how she and Hiro transform their ugly suburb through guerilla gardening. Humour is difficult to write and Wilkinson shines in this, as well as inspiring readers to beautify their surroundings with nature.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams is another urban caper loosely based on the real-life theft of a Picasso painting. Books about the arts often rank highly with me, as do books with an interesting structure.

Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish centres on Vietnamese-Australian scholarship girl Vân Uoc Phan who adores Jane Eyre. The story becomes magically surreal when she wishes that she “fascinates” Billy Gardiner.

Truth about Peacock BlueRosanne Hawke (interviewed here) writes hard-hitting yet compassionate stories based on young people in dire situations, often in Pakistan. Her latest, The Truth About Peacock Blue follows Christian girl, Aster who is accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher. Her life is at risk. A number of topical issues are raised with sensitivity and balance.

Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky is an exciting debut. Doyle is part of a group of female Australians who debuted with a splash in 2015. (I’ve interviewed many Australian authors on the blog.)

My international picks are award-winner Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which follows the kids who aren’t in the cool group.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is about Bridget whose friends seem to be growing up faster than she is. Stead always does something to surprise and parts of this novel are told in 2nd person. It’s clever and intriguing.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a (mostly) feel-good story about a big girl who enters a beauty pageant.

Cat with the coloured tailHighlights for younger readers are Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray, The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears, illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera, and Star of Deltora by living “imaginarium” Emily Rodda.

I can’t wait to read novels coming for young people in 2016, including Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall, A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Tangle of Gold by the luminous Jaclyn Moriarty and James Roy’s new YA novel.