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Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

(Chelsea Trilogy #1)

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  946 ratings  ·  177 reviews
Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachussetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they're somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one abou ...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published May 14th 2013 by McSweeney's McMullens (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  946 ratings  ·  177 reviews

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May 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Michelle Tea's Valencia was the perfect salve for my troubled little closeted queer heart a few years back--I loved and needed it so much you don't even know, I can't hype it enough--and I really enjoyed Rose of No Man's Land (unforgettable read), so naturally I was thrilled when I heard about this book. Lovely cover and design too so well done McSweeney's.

Unfortunately this didn't live up to my expectations. The writing was usually lovely and all the magical world-building was candy-delicious a
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is such an odd, magical book. It's not a perfect book by any means, but it's so full of heart and soul that I just couldn't help but get lost in it. It's very unique in every way: setting, characters, story, voice. I loved the illustrations, I thought they went along with the story perfectly and really enhanced the experience. I'll definitely be continuing with this strangely beautiful series when the next book is released. ...more
Elle (ellexamines)
2 stars. Any book that takes me two months to finish can't be that great. While Mermaid In Chelsea Creek has some good aspects, like appealing magical realism and a sweet wlw romance plot, it's far too boring to be engaging.

The Bad; Namely, Plotting

This book is incredibly slow and undriven. The plot developed slowly and very undramatically. I enjoyed the second half slightly more, but it's all pretty boring. In fact, we know the villain by the halfway mark. Yet none of the characters actually d
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Dirty, poor, run-down Chelsea, Massachusetts, is not exactly an exciting place to be 13. That is, not until Sophie Swankowski meets a mermaid when she’s hanging out down by the creek with her best friend. Syrena isn’t your typical mermaid – she’s a trash-talking, ancient creature from the rivers of Poland, and she’s come to tell Sophie about her destiny.

It turns out, Sophie fulfills a prophecy about a girl who will bring magic and hope back to the world. Now, she has to learn to harness and use
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: teen, fantasy
There is something about Michelle Tea's voice that is super-addictive. I can't get enough of her slightly damaged yet fierce, tragic but hilarious heroines and their casually intimate, piercingly funny stream-of-consciousness narratives. I've enjoyed everything she's written from "Valencia" to "Rose of No Man's Land," which was technically not a YA book but felt like one to me. So I was thrilled to hear she was writing a YA novel for McSweeney's new YA imprint. And when my copy finally arrived f ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, ya
Michelle Tea writes amazingly of real world relationships. The stuff between the main character and the mom, and the main character and the best friend felt really, really incredible, lived in, and true.

Unfortunately, this is a YA fantasy novel. And Michelle Tea doesn't do those things nearly as well (and, didn't have an editor who'd ever done these before either, or so I've heard). The YA-ness of the book seemed to talk down to its nominal audience of young people in a lot of ways. And the fant
Sian Lile-Pastore
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I adore Michelle Tea, my favourite of her books is Valenciaso I was pretty excited about reading this, the first in a young adult series.

I was sort of expecting more of the same Tea that I love, but this is pretty different to her other books and reminded me of Francesca Lia Block. It's a gritty (ish) urban fantasy novel with talking pigeons and magic and the ability to get into peoples hearts to find out what they are feeling.

I really enjoyed it, and loved bits like this:

"It was a piece of gl
Kari (BookandCoffeeLover)
Despite a slow start, this book captured my attention with it's magical realism. The plight young Sophie faces may not be a familiar one, yet as a girl on the cusp on young adulthood she is all to easy to relate to. The fantasy elements of this story were woven wonderfully with the pain and anguish of growing up. I can't wait to read more of this series - though waiting for the next instalment will be difficult.

Originally published on LibraryThing Dec.22, 2013 (x)
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
An old Polish fairy tale, strongly believed from those women who came from the old country, tells of a girl who will come and straighten out the cruel, dirty world they live in. Sophie Swankowski is 13 years old, lives in the broken down town of Chelsea, Massachusetts. Sophie and her best friend play the "pass-out" game just to feel like they are somewhere else. Sophie meets the mermaid, a filthy swearing creature, who tells her how special she is and will bring the magic. From talking pigeons, ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, fantasy, ya
I'm not saying this is a perfect book, and I don't think it's for everybody, but I LOOOOVVVVVEEED it.

One of the reasons I picked it up was that Daniel Handler wrote a rave review of it, and that makes sense to me because I think Michelle Tea and Danielle Handler have somewhat similar styles, in that they are a bit wordy and pretentious but beautiful. I love them both for it, but I can theoretically understand where some readers would find it to be a drawback.

I loved how organically diverse Merm
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: necessary-novels
I can't even with this beautiful book. Ordinary girl in a desperately ordinary, fucked-up town discovers she is a witch meant to save the world. Finds her magical family and teachers in pigeons, an ancient grimy mermaid, her doting pediatrician, a tenderqueer Chicana bruja and her curandera mom, the sweetest and most powerful babushka, and a dog that used to be her grandfather. And this is only the first of the trilogy! Wtf! ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya
"The children ran out into the streets and the old women thought quietly about how a place could have no magic, how their grandchildren would grow up magicless and never even know it. And the old women would shed a tear and lament the old countries they'd abandoned, longing for a land where the magic came up into their bones just from standing on its earth" (9).

Eek, I wanted to like this book so bad (witchy and explicitly working-class, set in Chelsea, MA), but I'm rounding up if we're honest. C
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book falls into a category that I never knew I needed - lower-class urban fantasy.

Not, like, lower-class as in not-classy, and not urban as in modern. I mean, this is a modern fantasy story for those of us who grew up on food stamps and eating cereal for dinner and hanging out at skeevy beaches full of cigarette butts because our parents were too tired, too jaded, or too messed up to stop us.

We deserve magic in our lives too.

There are stories out there about poor kids, yeah, but somehow the
Apr 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
What makes this book bad isn’t that it’s terrible. It’s that it’s so goddamn good at being mediocre. Everything from the writing “style” to vocabulary to plot construction screams rudimentary. There were two things that really perplexed me about this book:the villain’s motives/plans (or I suppose, lack thereof is more fitting) and the reader demographic. It seems as if this book is suited best for twelve-year-olds but will then adds in obscenities or innuendos. Though, frankly, this book isn’t r ...more
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult, lore
I think it's great for its target audience, unfortunately that's not me. Would recommend for a preteen or young teen. I keep trying YA, and I keep striking out.

I will say there is some awesome folklore in here, and I was invested in the outcome, just not the story, but again, I think that's just the YA genre, and I can never seem to get into it.
First things first: I wish this had gone through another handful of rounds of edits. I say this not just because I found a typo or weird grammatical error every 20th page or so (there was that!), but because the concept of the book is strong, and there are more than a few scenes that are sweet and sad and totally heart-rending, but the voice was never quite consistent. The tone jumped around a bit such that it felt like one chapter was meant for middle school readers, the next one for late teena ...more
Nov 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
The only redeeming quality is that McSweeney's publications are always a gem to hold, look at, and page through. If weren't for this, and the fun sketches throughout the book, I would have put this down once I reached the talking pigeons. Yes, talking magical pigeons. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for some good magical realism and certain types of fantasy. One of my favorite authors is Jonathan Carroll. Good being the operative word, here. Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is not good, even as a young adul ...more
Cris (the_book_adventurer)

• Simple but effective artwork
• An engaging plot that was easy to read and was entertaining enough
• A variety of characters, good and bad, that all had a part to play
• The writing style was hard to get used to, but it also felt lyrical


• The mermaid, as noted in the title, was only mentioned a bit in the beginning and a bit at the end. I felt there could have been more dialogue and context with her.
• The characters were hard to like. A few were completely unlikeable, but some had red
Amanda Davidson
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Let the fierce, adolescent-style summer reading begin. This book moves at the super quick pace of a magical YA novel, which it is! But it brings a kind of interiority and queer wisdom which I don't remember in, say, Chronicles of Narnia. Proud of and excited for Michelle Tea, as she pushes into new fictional terrain in her work. Polish witches, curanderas, teenage lesbian/gender blurring mentor figures, big Puerto Rican immigrant families, single working moms, a mermaid who cusses, and a determi ...more
A strong 3.5
Ok, let's get the weird stuff out of the way. I had a very hard time starting this book. Namely because this story is about the grimy dirty side of life we try to pretend doesn't exist. The description of the dirty neighborhood creek made my skin crawl. Yeah, I have some issues. This story was touching because the main character struggles to find her place beyond the dusty trash filled streets. It is a mix of magical stark realism. I rated this 3.5 because the story makes a leap into
Allison Floyd
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a longstanding Michelle Tea fan, I was eager—albeit a bit trepidatious—to see her try her hand at something categorized as YA (a nebulous category, but one of which I'm a fan). This was slow going at first, but since it's the first book in a trilogy, that is perhaps to be expected, and the book really hit its stride to ripen into a work that is at turns heartbreaking, hilarious, violent, and tender. And yes, dare I say it, magical. Really, a beautiful book.

I can't wait for Round Two!
Aug 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Your assignment: save the world, that's all. For help, you've got a flock of pigeons, a mermaid, an old Polish shopkeeper and a junkyard glass collector.
And in the opposite corner, your utterly evil grandmother, who happens to have your father and sister in her horrible clutches. A very promising first installment in this series. Next one out in October 2014.
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I echo what a lot of readers have said...not perfect, could benefit from way more editing...there are issues but the charm of the book surpasses all of that much like the heroine and her supporting cast.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Okay, I only made it to page 173. I give up, this story is just not for me. Stick to memoirs, Michelle Tea. I normally adore your writing.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
In his blurb for Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, Daniel Handler says it has "the grit and the wit and the girls in trouble loving each other fierce and true" of Michelle Tea's work in general (which totally makes me want to read more by Michelle Tea) and also "all the juice of a terrific fantasy novel, with the magic and the creatures and the otherworldly sense of something lurking underneath each artifact of our ordinary lives," and yeah, I think that's a good description, and captures a lot of why I ...more
Marthese Formosa
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, owned
‘a story of a girl who could let all the sadness of the world pass right through her’
‘Mermaid in Chelsea Creek’ is yet another book I have been meaning to get into and the hype did not disappoint. This young adult fantasy book is set in Chelsea, Massachusetts and follows Sophia a teenage girl with Polish ancestry.

Sophia and her best friend Ella like to play the pass-out game because it’s the only thing to do in Chelsea. One day, when they are playing the game near the filthy creek, Sophia has a
Casey, with a book
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A twist on a chosen one narrative where the sparkly appeal of mermaid lore has a rather disillusioned bent. The heroine is young for the YA genre at thirteen, and yet her experience captures something of my own coming-of-age, more so than other YA fantasy books especially. While some of the language and tropes are outdated (ie smoking, gendered or otherwise icky insults) it is refreshing to read about a fantasy heroine learning about her own strength and power amidst an unpromising background—a ...more
Rachel Armington
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The story kept adding so many more complications to the main character that forty pages from the end, I started preparing myself for a flimsy resolve. But the end wasn't really the end: I hadn't realized this is the first of a trilogy. I've ordered the second in the trilogy.

The family dynamics felt spot on. Yes, there was a lot of magic, but the story was mostly about what goes on between people.

In the beginning, I thought the line illustrations were a bit lame. I wanted an illustration of a pig
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
My quest to read books from my home shelves brought me to the shelves of books from McSweeney's. Michelle Tea just released the third and final volume in this series, so it made sense to tackle these three books next.

Tea creates a fun and fraught world that feels real, even as it opens up into the magical realms. There's a dark reality in the daily lives of Sophie's family and friends, and the supernatural elements undergird the real-world stakes. Make sure to have book two ready, so you start r
Xander Cassel
I'm. . .not sure what to think of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek. I wanted to love it, I really did--the title and the cover and everything about the book other than the book itself convinced me that I'd like it. I raced through it in a single day--doesn't that mean it was good, so good I couldn't put it down?


Despite how much I wanted to love it, I couldn't escape the feeling that Mermaid was a first draft that somehow got published. The entire backstory is spelled out in massive chunks of exposi
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Michelle Tea (born Michelle Tomasik) is an American author, poet, and literary arts organizer whose autobiographical works explore queer culture, feminism, race, class, prostitution, and other topics. She is originally from Chelsea, Massachusetts and currently lives in San Francisco. Her books, mostly memoirs, are known for their views into the queercore community. In 2012 Tea partnered with City ...more

Other books in the series

Chelsea Trilogy (3 books)
  • Girl at the Bottom of the Sea (Chelsea, #2)
  • Castle on the River Vistula

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“Andrea worked to harden herself to the onslaught of feelings. The problem with feelings was, first you had one, which was generally bad enough. But then you had a feeling about your feeling, and then a feeling about how you were feeling about your feeling, and then another feeling would pop up at the sight of it all, this teetering pyramid of emotion, and all of it would look wrong to Andrea, all her feeling somehow incorrect, too much or too little, too soft or too hard, and another feeling would emerge at the thought of that. It was endless, having feelings. And god forbid someone noticed you having them, as Sophie just had. Then you had feelings about that, about having been seen, and more feelings still about the other person's feelings. Oh, it was awful.” 2 likes
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