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325 pages, Paperback
First published June 19, 2018
The fisherman loosed her and she dove back into the water the way a wild thing returns to a wild place, and he watched her go.Amelia - a young, restless mermaid - spent her entire life in the ocean with her family. Yet, despite the security and safety the deep ocean offered, she couldn't stand it.
But...his loneliness snaked into her, and she was sorry for it, for that loneliness caught her more surely than the net.
He knew he would never see her again, and in his on practical way thought at leas he'd seen her one time. That was more than most fishermen. He'd touched magic, and he should not want for more.And so, puzzling over this odd human, she swam back to his little fisherman's house and joined him there. They spent many long and happy years together.
She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her.The book almost felt like two separate stories - especially considering the striking difference between the love story set in a sleepy seaside town and the wild and bustling 1840s New York.
He knew then, without any other proof, that she was a mermaid, a real mermaid, and far from wanting her in Barnum’s tank, he wanted her to return to the ocean or to her cottage on the rocks or just go anywhere but there, for Barnum would take all of her magic and twist it out of her until the enchantment was gone, and Levi was afraid for her, so afraid.
Freedom was far more intoxicating than safety could ever be.
Women who did what they liked instead of what other people wished were often accused of witchcraft, because only a witch would be so defiant, or so it was thought.
“Do not mistake the revelation of my body for the revelation of my heart. My heart keeps its own secrets, and they don’t belong to you or anyone else just because you’ve seen me with a fish tail.”
“Until I became a human, nobody ever told me there was something wrong with my body.”
“Why is a girl less valuable than a boy?”
The mermaid swam in the oceans and enjoyed her freedom. Then a fisherman’s net captured her and the eyes of sad and lonely Jack stuck with her. Thus, began her decision to go onto land and shift from the horrifying alien creature into a woman with gray eyes. The transformation is not easy and it comes at a price that nearly cripples the mermaid, but she crawls into the fisherman’s house and finds a home. The sea is cruel and it stole her husband away.
“Still she loved him, and loved him more for she knew his heart, and after many, many years she found she loved him even more than the sea. And so the sea, who can be bitter and jealous herself, took Jack away— perhaps in hopes that Amelia would love her best again.”
If this doesn’t immediately destroy your soul, then you have a heart of iron. This isn’t all to the story though. This is only the first chapter. Amelia’s story starts a decade later when Levi Lyman, a business partner of P.T. Barnum, arrives with the hopes of convincing Amelia to come to New York and be a part of Barnum’s museum of odd things. This story is based off the real incident of the Feejee mermaid that was exhibited in Barnum’s museum.
Henry tackles the tale from the perspective of what if the Feejee mermaid was a very real mermaid? A mermaid who longed for a friend. Who was headstrong and refused to let anyone own her. A mermaid who saw all the injustices placed upon women to fit and mold them into the boxes that their husbands so desperately they desired they fall into. Henry takes liberties with Levi and Barnum, of course, they are depicted as the story is fit and not true to history. Henry uses this story to tackle a lot of important topics within feminism and her writing is absolutely captivating. One of my favorite parts of this novel is when Amelia reflects on the fact that Barnum is hanging up posters of a half-naked woman and it is nothing like what Amelia truly looks like. It’s great commentary on how she is outside the realm of objectification for human enjoyment and sexuality. I highlighted so many passages and cried within the first twenty pages. That wasn’t the only time I cried. I was emotionally attached to this story. I was mesmerized and overwhelmed by the beauty of the words and the horror of humanity.
Amelia is a wonderful character to follow. She has no concept of societal standards and is put off by a lot of the things that people to do other people. It’s so wonderful to see a character who sees the world through eyes of confusion, but also a fierce desire to be close to humanity. She was strong and she spoke her mind even when it was deemed that she should be quiet. This isn’t a Little Mermaid retelling, but it does rely on the fabrication of Barnum that Amelia can’t speak and so when she is performing, she must remain silent. It removes her voice when she has one and it is quiet depressing, but also a fitting contrast to Charity, Barnum’s wife, and her own ability to speak, but the silence her husband forces upon her with scathing comments and uninterest.
Levi is Amelia’s main love interest. I don’t particularly love Levi. In fact, I don’t think he’s all that and a bag of chips, but I did appreciate what he did for this story. He was sweet and he stood by his convictions through thick and thin (which is admirable even if it causes tension with Amelia). They were a lovely together because it was a gradual process. Amelia didn’t automatically love Levi. In fact, she pitied him. After a while, though his constant helpful and protective presence became a solace to her and she began to think that she could love again. I loved that message. I didn’t even care that Levi wasn’t all that interesting and he doesn’t have much development outside of greatly loving Amelia and feeling guilt over Barnum’s last stunt, but I loved the message that their love held.
The Villain- Barnum is probably the most obvious “villain” of this story. He’s pretty despicable and he does a lot of horrible things to his family and Amelia. I wasn’t a fan of him, but I think that’s what Henry was trying to convey with presenting a man so obsessed with owning things, particularly women, who could garner him great wealth and be used to his benefit. He was pretty much a representation of male dominance and privilege.
Charity and Caroline were absolute sweethearts. My heart broke when Charity didn’t accept Amelia because she thought she was lying about being a mermaid. When they became besties, it warmed my heart and made me happy because female friendship is the best. Caroline is also so sweet and the first interaction she has with Amelia absolutely stole my heart. They are wonderful and Charity as a character is an important image of what many women of the time period were dealing with when it came to being forced into fitting marriage standards.
I think this book is flawless. You probably will disagree, but honestly, I think many will enjoy this book. It has so many wonderful elements that make this magical story an important tale of loss, love, friendship, standing up for your personal rights, and never giving up hope. It’s a great novel and I’m so happy that it blew me away because I wasn’t expecting to love this when I requested it for review, but I’m so glad that I do. It’s always wonderful when I find a novel randomly and it becomes a new favorite.
-Advertisement for the Feejee Mermaid from the Charleston Courier, January 1843