Book Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

the summer of chasing mermaidsThe 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…

There have been very few absolute 5-star reads for me this year, but The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is an absolute winner. There’s so much to love about this gem of a novel.

Firstly, the writing is utterly exquisite. The author really captures life in a small sea cove town, and, indeed, the exotic island life back in Tobago–the sights, the smells, the musical rhythms, the moods of the sea, the unusual dishes and flavor combinations. This is really one of those instances where you can basically close your eyes and picture the scene. Gorgeous.

A lot of thought and research went into this book as well, as mentioned in the author’s note. While I am by no means a Trinidad & Tobago island expert, the portrayal of our MC Elyse’s culture came across as authentic, like the aforementioned dishes, the festivals, the island slang, etc.

In terms of the characters, I thought the portrayal of female friendship and support was excellent, both in terms of Kirby and Vanessa, Elyse’s cousin and cousin’s BFF respectively, and Elyse’s aunt Lemon and her sisterhood of friends/coven members. What struck me was that even as potential love rivals, there is nothing catty about Vanessa towards Elyse; she is portrayed as exuberant but genuine.

Love interest, neighbor and town player/bad boy, Christian Kane was another pleasant surprise – while he is known for his numerous flings, he doesn’t denigrate or dismiss the girls he’s been with. It’s a common trope in literature that all the girls before the Special One are just sluts/meaningless/silly, but there’s none of that here.

The book also does fabulous things in terms of subverting gender stereotypes. Christian’s little brother, Sebastian, adores mermaids and goes on mermaid hunts along the beach. The annual town mermaid parade at the Pirate Regatta, meanwhile, is open to girls only, but Sebastian really wants to enter, which in turn engenders the wrath of his father, who insists that boys must be boys. The way in which this was dealt with had me fist pumping the air. Furthermore, although I’m not a fan of kids, I found myself falling in love with this cutie-pie.

The portrayal of family really struck me as well: the families that are falling apart, the families that we make for ourselves, and the families we leave behind. The different ways we hurt and heal them. Unconventional families, and family drama, and the unique complexities of each family situation.

Finally, there is also the issue of disability. Elyse’s vocal cords are damaged irreparably in a boating accident back home in Tobago. It’s not something that’s visible at first sight–she usually keeps her scar covered with a shell necklace–but it’s an interesting depiction of how society reacts to someone who’s essentially been rendered invisible by virtue of losing her voice. Linked to this is the theme of finding a new path when your current one is no longer viable–not just for Elyse, but for everybody living in Atargatis Cove when their way of life is threatened.

In short, this was another superb offering from Sarah Ockler. Don’t miss it.

Rating: 9/10

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.