Friday, August 7, 2015
Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
Title: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids
Author: Sarah Ockler
Rating: 5 Stars
I blinked hard when I finished The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, both because of the sheer perfection of this novel and in a tireless effort to keep at bay the waves of emotion that Sarah Ockler's "Acknowledgements" section had inspired. Then, after a long moment of contemplation, I turned back to the beginning of the novel and re-read it, cover-to-cover, even more slowly and with ever more deliberation than before; desperately trying to make the experience last a lifetime, not a mere few hours.
I read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids in January. Only eight months later, in the summer heat of August, am I able to finally put words to my emotions. Ockler's latest hit me like a sucker punch to the gut; I didn't even know how desperately I yearned for this book. Elyse, the beautiful protagonist of our tale, is mute. Once a singer, about to embark on tour with her twin sister, Elyse is now merely a visitor in Oregon, a sea away from her home and at an arm's length from those around her.
As a singer myself, I understood Elyse's fear, tension, worry, and pain implicitly. Yet, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids did not resonate with me simply due to the fact that Elyse and I are both singers (obviously, she is MUCH better). No, the reason Ockler's novel hit so close to home is because it forced me to think of all the people in my life--myself included--who have felt as if they didn't have a voice, at some point or the other. Elyse literally has no voice but in losing her literal voice, she loses all other means of communicating her dreams, her hopes, and her desires. And for me, watching Elyse find a group of friends she could belong with, seeing her converse with a tight-knit group of females who are both inspirational and vulnerable, reading her fall in love with a guy who respected her boundaries and pushed her to be a better person--all of these pushed me to look beyond my own limitations in life, whether they be the literal loss of a voice or something else entirely, and persevere on.
Beyond the thematic, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids ticks off all the right boxes of what I seek for in Contemporary YA. Not only is Elyse a person of color, her heritage and culture is tastefully explored. Ockler has done her research and this novel truly pays homage to the diversity Elyse represents. Moreover, Ockler is, as always, one of the strongest proponents for sex-positive YA, which I appreciate on so many levels because it empowers her characters and allows them to be, without the pressure or stigma of society. I've already mentioned a host of strong female friendships but it's worth mentioning again: Elyse has at least two close female friends throughout the duration of this novel and, what's more, she has female role models she looks up to, respects, and can confide in. It's so rare to see such a strong host of woman-power in a YA novel so I appreciated the effortless manner in which Ockler incorporated her secondary characters.
Even more than the characters, though, this is a novel of place; time, wind, and the sun. This small coastal town in Oregon felt so real to me that I Googled it. I fell in love. For Elyse, being in Oregon is an escape; a way for her to avoid dealing with her twin sister, who is still pursuing the dream meant for the both of them, and the rest of her large family. Yet, place grows to take on a whole new meaning for Elyse as she begins to fight to keep the coastal town a place for natives, not tourists. Aiding her in this in Christian Kane, the gorgeous summer boy whose boat she helps to restore and vows to sail. Christian, at first glance, seems to be the classic womanizer. Known for the string of beach girls whose hearts he breaks, Christian seemed about as far away from swoon-worthy as you could get.
But then, the guy just charmed the pants off of me. I love how his relationship with Elyse begins as a firm partnership, something built on mutual respect, and grows into a genuine friendship. I began to look forward to their interactions not for the sexual chemistry but, rather, for the insight into their lives that I knew would accompany their dialogue. Christian's younger brother, Sebastian, is also an important character in his own right and the two brothers must deal with the baggage of never being quite "man" enough for their father. I really, really loved how Ockler explored both coins of the gender difficulties in this novel; the men, who face immense pressure to act a certain way and fulfill a quota of expectations and the women, who are meant to conform to a single "type". So much of the growth these characters experience is in learning to disregard those labels and feel comfortable in their own skin; in owning who they are, right now. And I love that.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is wildly entertaining and vividly romantic, all while being the type of YA novel to inspire teens and propel them in the right direction; the path that leads to self-discovery. Needless to say, it's a favorite; not just of 2015, but of my entire reading career. I lack the appropriate words to fully express just how much this novel moved me, but know that it did; intensely. If I had to recommend just one Ockler novel, or even just one Contemporary YA novel of 2015, it would be The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. I only recently discovered that it is a re-telling of "The Little Mermaid" and, truly, is has become a part of my world.