Title: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids
Author: Sarah Ockler
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC received
Availability: Available now
Summary: The 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 . . .
Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is inspired by—you guessed it—the Little Mermaid, but the story itself is centered not on getting Christian fall in love with Elyse, but on Elyse trying to figure out who she is and what she is going to do with her life in the wake of her accident. Her grief, her confusion, her anger, her fear—it lurks everywhere in this book, from the way she frequently avoids interaction with others to her moments of panic about the ocean to her finding sanctuary on a neglected boat to her refusal to interact with her twin sister, Natalie. Elyse is stuck in an in between place, much like the town of Atargatis Cove is caught between the faction that wants to keep the town as it is and the one that wants to revitalize the town by selling it to developers.
Luckily, Elyse has a supportive group of people around her to navigate her feelings and external conflicts, including her Aunt Lemon and cousin Kirby. I really enjoyed Elyse and Kirby’s friendship and how Kirby tried to help Elyse by providing her an escape route or drawing her out to have fun with people, as required. The Kane brothers, Christian and Sebastian, are also a highlight of the book, and their various conflicts with their father are yet another way the book explores the themes of having a voice versus being voiceless.
As for Christian—I really liked him as Elyse’s love interest. In fact, it feels like it has been ages since I enjoyed a romance as much as this one. Their friendship-turned-romance felt realistic to me, and the story didn’t shy away from Elyse’s physical desire. I loved that both Elyse and Christian were able to start opening up to each other and that, while their mutual support helped them both, falling in love didn’t magically make everything better in the rest of their lives. This is not a book with its ends neatly knotted, and I think it is all the better for it.
Sarah Ockler’s prose was rich and immersive, especially when it came to Atargatis. As someone who grew up in Oregon, I was particularly fond of the many loving descriptions of the state’s rocky coastline and small-town life. (Note: There is no sales tax in Oregon, though, so that scene in Lemon’s gift shop is either an error or a sly joke.) I loved Elyse’s poetry and the imagery of her constant writing: on the boat, on her hands, on paper, on other people. It was refreshing, too, that Ockler didn’t have Elyse clarify her vocabulary for a default white American audience so far as I remember and instead left unfamiliar words to the reader to figure out based on context. (Ockler thanked two people for sharing their knowledge of Trinidad and Tobago in her acknowledgements.) I would very much be interested in seeing a review of this book from someone who is a native of Trinidad and Tobago (or other Caribbean nation) or who has the same (or similar) disability as Elyse.
Recommendation: Buy it now. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is a delightful romance that deals with loss, family strife, and falling in love. The beautiful prose and great characters made for an engaging read. Ockler’s fairy tale–based book would be a great addition to any summer vacation reading list.