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The Mermaid's Sister Paperback – March 1, 2015
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in 1870 on and around Llanfair Mountain, Pennsylvania, this delightful fantasy novel introduces the reader to Clara and Maren, sisters adopted around the same time by a woman (“Auntie”) known throughout the village for her cures. Maren came to Auntie in a conch shell, while Clara arrived via stork. Now, at sixteen, Maren is slowly turning into a mermaid, her fingers webbing and scales appearing on her sides. Clara wants Auntie to cure Maren, but that is not an option. Auntie responds, “There is no cure for being who you truly are.” As time passes, Maren’s body transforms more rapidly; it becomes obvious that it is time for Maren to be taken to the sea or she will die. Clara and a very close family friend, O’Neill, who also happens to be the object of desire of both sisters, decide to take Maren themselves. The story follows their adventure to the sea and the unexpected perils they face on the journey as their caravan burns down and they are “rescued” and then held captive by a group of traveling performers. This novel is widely appealing: there are elements of fantasy, romance, and adventure throughout. The book is a page-turner; the story pulls the reader in and the dynamic characters and plot twists keep interest levels high. The author’s writing style is very descriptive, helping the reader truly visualize the sights, sounds, tastes, and adventures of the characters. A must read.
From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This lovely, lyrical fantasy takes place in a mythical Pennsylvania mountain setting and tells the story of three foundlings—Clara, Maren, and O'Neill. Clara was delivered to Auntie by a stork, Maren was found in a seashell, and O'Neill was placed beneath an apple tree. Clara and Maren have grown up as sisters with wise woman Auntie as their guardian, while the young man O'Neill is raised by Scarff the traveling peddler. When Clara notices that Maren is developing scales and needs to spend more and more time in water, she realizes that her friend is turning into a mermaid and that no potion or magic will halt the change. Because the only way to save Maren is to return her to her father, the Sea King, Clara and O'Neill place Maren in a tub of salt water in the peddler's wagon and journey toward the ocean. However, they are waylaid by members of a traveling show who enslave them and put Maren on display in a freak show. Clara must overcome her inner doubts about who she really is in order to save Maren, O'Neill, and herself from the wicked traveling players. Like all good fairy tales, this one touches on deeper themes of sibling rivalry, jealousy, insecurity, and questions of identity. Osbert the rambunctious wyvern is a particularly well-done character. VERDICT Noble's treatment of the mermaid theme is fresh and original, and even her minor characters are beautifully depicted.—Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ
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Top Customer Reviews
I suppose my largest problem, overall, with the book is how long it takes to really get going. I ordered this book exactly a month ago. I read the last 70% of it in the past four days. It was the first 30% that kept me slogging through for the rest of that time. Don't get me wrong. It's not unenjoyable. There is quite a bit of characters suddenly and formally breaking into long bouts of storytelling. To a certain extent I found it charming. It fit well with the idea of the old-fashioned fairy tale this is trying to be. The problem is that most of it ends up having little to do with the main thrust of the narrative, so that the reader is left wondering where exactly this story is going. And since the main goal (of transporting the soon-to-be-mermaid Maren to the sea) is established very early on but not actually undertaken until well past the first third, everything in between those two points feels like the story spinning its wheels. And while it is enjoyable spinning, it can become rather frustrating with its meandering. What finally gets Clara on the road is the unwanted appearance of besotted suitor of Maren, who learns the truth of her condition and follows them on the road. To my disappointment, this really doesn't go anywhere. The suitor is never actually seen again, and the entire affair is resolved out of view of the reader.
But since I did manage to breeze through the remainder of the book very quickly, it obviously managed to hook me eventually. And it did with the (re)introduction of the slimy "medicine" man and his family, who seem like helpful Good Samaritans at first but very quickly turn sinister as they trap Clara and the other protagonists into a life of servitude and performing. Once that major conflict is introduced, the book really gets its legs, for lack of a better term, especially in regards to a mermaid-related story. Sadly, what is set up as an amazingly intriguing premise (albeit one introduced halfway through) is resolved far too simply and disappointingly.
Being a book centered mainly around three teenagers, a love triangle is almost inevitable, and a love triangle there is. But it is one of the most bizarre I've ever encountered. The elements are all there, with Clara feeling guilt over loving the young man, O'Neill, who is both like a brother to her and clearly the object of Maren's affections. The problem is with Maren. Once her transformation begins, she really stops being a character and becomes little more than an object to be carted around. She very quickly loses the ability to speak, which means there's no real meaningful interactions between the sisters, especially in regards to the love triangle, which really only seriously gets into motion after Maren is already a mermaid. All Maren can do is pout, tousle her hair, and swim around. And since Clara is much too prim and proper to discuss her feelings with O'Neill, the conflict is entirely internal. So it's really a love triangle with just one person involved.
From here, spoilers abound, so keep reading at your own risk. The initial villainous plan of the Phipps family is set up very well. First they save Clara, O'Neill, and Maren from a fire and nurse them back to health. They ply them with guilt to stay with them on the road, really wanting to display Maren in their shows. And then they simply poison them with a concoction that forces them to drink it daily or die. I thought this was extraordinarily powerful, and I thought the Phippses were great villains, especially the relationship between them. Dr. Phipps rules with an iron fist. The rest of his family, while intimidated by him, are still completely loyal to him. The son, Jasper, appears as a wonderfully rich character, both charismatic and detestable at the same time. He hates his father for entrapping him in the same way yet seems to have given up hope and actually finds his life of servitude to be pleasing. Or at least, that's the way it seemed...
For Clara and O'Neill, the nature of the dilemmaI meant they couldn't act rashly, but every moment they spent there made them more and more entangled in this web. The whole thing kept tension really high, and I couldn't wait to see where this was going.
At one point, though, I had an unpleasant thought flit through my head: "Since this is a world where magic is hidden, how does Dr. Phipps recruit people who don't know about magic? Wouldn't they be inclined to simply disbelieve that such a potion could exist? It sure is lucky that Clara and O'Neill do believe in such things and didn't even require any proof... Wait. They didn't get any proof. How do they know any of this is for real?" And it turns out... none of this is for real. The potion is a fake, and the characters have just been accepting this on faith the entire time. So Clara and O'Neill look to be completely stupid for falling for this. And even worse, the way this is revealed makes this Phipps family look stupid. Dr. Phipps falls ill and stays that way for the rest of the book, which already dilutes the tension. But even though he's out of the story for days if not weeks, not once do the other family members even think to keep up the charade with the potion. As soon as he's out of the picture, the other villains never think about it again. The fact that they don't drop dead is the only thing that causes Clara and O'Neill to realize they've been had.
And that's the main problem with the ending in general: everything is too passive. It's not just too passive. It's completely passive. Clara and O'Neill don't really do anything to free themselves. Everything is done for them. They just get to sit and watch it happen. The Phipps family turns out to be so incompetent they essentially free Clara and O'Neill themselves. A magic healing dagger is literally just dropped into Clara's lap. And then, finally, a random wyvern just shows up and kills the antagonists, who were already in the process of killing each other.
I really wish the initial story hadn't been a lie because the lie was much more interesting than the truth, and it gave the characters a much better dynamic.
Overall, I did enjoy this story. It has more than enough charm and mysticism to keep it together. In fact, "charming" is the word I would use to describe this book overall. I'll be honest that the ending left me disappointed, but that's largely because the middle had built up a conflict so fascinating. I admire Carrie Anne Noble, especially when I saw that she wrote this through National Novel Writing Month and published it herself. It takes a lot of dedication and guts to do that. As someone who has yet to make it through NaNoWriMo, I look at her in awe for that. So I hope she keeps on writing because she definitely has some great potential. I'm glad I read this book.
I think the problem is not with this story, but that readers of YA fiction have been ruined by the likes of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Not to knock those works -- I've read those, and more, and loved them. They are tough, gritty, edge-of-your seat rides, the rock stars of the YA world.
But it isn't all rock-and-roll out there. Sometimes there is a ballad, sung mournfully and sweet, that makes your heart ache and tears well. It makes you yearn to hear more, to lift your voice and sing along. This is that story, every graceful, bittersweet, beautiful word.
If you're the hardcore rocker, this might not be for you. But if you like to slow dance now and then, then this is a lovely choice.
Plot-wise, it is straightforward, simple, and (for me, at least) a bit predictable. Their mission is determined at the beginning, and their mission is accomplished at the end. There aren’t any twists. They do hit a few snags to slow them down (otherwise, this would be a pretty short book), but it still ends exactly how I expected. The romance is also very predictable. (But just in case you don’t predict it, I won’t spoil it.)
In places, the writing is beautiful, perfectly fitting for a fairy tale. In the first chapter, there's a line describing the wyvern: "His blue scales, pale as a summer sky on his belly and dark as midnight on his back, catch the dim light like curved slices of stained glass." I love the poetry of it, especially describing the glass as slices. Other sentences are more awkward. For example, at one point, a smile is described as such: “[the smile] would not look out of place on a crocodile with a belly full of fresh antelope.” While it gets the point across, this is a wordy way of saying the smile looks evilly satisfied.
The characters are cute, but they could be more developed. Clara is enamored with her sister and constantly describing her beauty. Yes, her sister is a beautiful mermaid, but it sounds like Clara has a major inferiority complex, and that’s never addressed. Whenever Clara mentions herself, she talks about how she’s not pretty like her sister, not brave, not skilled, not at all noteworthy. This could have been an interesting plot point, where she realizes she doesn’t have to be a glorious, mythical creature to be special. But she never does. Even at the end, when someone tells her she’s brave and sweet, she refuses to believe it.
Meanwhile, her sister doesn’t seem to live up to all the praise. The faster Maren transforms into a mermaid, the less personality she has. Once she loses her speech early in the book, all she does is primp, cry, or stick out her tongue at Clara. She seems more like the object of a video game quest than a dimensional person experiencing a major transformation.
This story has a lot of promise: One girl destined to become a mermaid, the other girl struggling to accept the loss of her human sister and realize her own self-worth as an “ordinary” person. It’s clear the author is a wonderful writer. I just felt like a lot of aspects could have been more developed, and when they weren't, it fell a bit flat. Still, it’s a fun little adventure that keeps you reading.
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