The Mermaid by Christina Henry
Paperback. 336 pages.
The Mermaid is a quiet but powerful story, telling the tale of a beautiful mermaid who eventually journeys into the world of humans and discovers both positive and negative aspects about humans and herself.
There is a strong fairytale-like quality to Henry's writing that is reminiscent to her other books (Lost Boy, Red Queen, etc.) as well to traditional fairy tales as well. The opening chapters of The Mermaid completely drew me into the story and are probably what kept me so intrigued with our protagonist Amelia's journey. The story itself is on the slower side and there aren't really any intense, major events that occur, but instead minor events that work together to create a full, comprehensive story.
I really liked the process of how Amelia changed from mermaid to human, and I thought it was clever how it was worked into and pulled in the show and museum as well. I think one thing that really made this book particularly compelling was how realistic and plausible this entire situation was presented. It really felt like I was just reading a historical fiction book about a mermaid that made her way to New York and had a brief stint at Barnum's museum. It was beautiful and so fascinating to see how Henry incorporated a realistic world with strong magic and mythological elements.
Amelia is truly a beautiful and inspirational figure. Her confidence is contagious and I loved that she never once wavered in her wishes, but stood firm and stood up to the men and the world around her; she refused to cower before anyone. Despite this, I will admit that I did find myself annoyed by her on more than occasion. One reason in particular was because of her perceived disdain for humans. I understand, to an extent, how horrible human life was compared to that of a mermaid's, and I did like that way Henry showed the hypocrisy and silliness of so many aspects of how humans lived in that time period (and now). However, I felt that Amelia went overboard in her hatred and it started to feel as if she was simply judging humans for being different and doing things differently than she was used to. I would have expected her to be just a bit more open-minded, but instead she seemed to hate everything humans did, and it was frustrating to watch her refusal to accept anything. Similarly, once agreeing to work with Barnum, she complained about every idea he came up with. While I understand that a lot of Barnum's ideas were harmful or not humane, she is the one who agreed to come and work for Barnum, and at some point you usually just have to suck it up and do what you agreed to do. She had a problem with every aspect of any idea, and even when she finally agreed to something that she wanted, she still complained. On the whole, Amelia is a great character, but there were some aspects of her personality that rubbed me the wrong way and frustrated me.
Levi Lyman is P.T. Barnum's partner is a gentle character that basically acts as Amelia's 'guardian' throughout most of this book. His goal is to make sure that Amelia is treated with respect and dignity, and although his actions were a bit overmuch at times, it was nice to see someone with pure intentions in this book, especially compared to Barnum and the rest of the public depicted in this story. Barnum, for instance, was an incredibly unlikable character in this book, but I do understand why Henry enforced his avaricious side in order to fit the narrative and make this a more interesting and conflict-driven story. The relationships between Levi, Barnum, Amelia, and Barnum's wife, Charity, were often multi-faceted and left the reader with much to ponder and explore.
Despite the many positive aspects of this book, I did have a few minor issues with the plot where I felt there were small holes or things that could have been dealt with in a simpler manner, but these were only small things that did not interrupt the narrative too much. I feel as though some of these minor issues were glossed over and ignored in order to the story itself on the simpler side in order to focus more on the characters, their development, and their relationships to one another, which is something that I do understand and part of what makes me not want to dwell too much on those more negative aspects. I still really enjoyed this book and everything Henry created.
*I received an ARC of The Mermaid courtesy of Netgalley and Berkley Publishing. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*
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