The Mermaid Call by Alex Cotter

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The Mermaid Call by Alex Cotter

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: There is a lot to this read about a girl forced to see herself as a fish out of water, and thus encouraged to seek a mermaid as some kind of happy medium. I just think the broad style is limiting the book to only one specific age and gender bracket, and not being ambitious enough.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2022
Publisher: Nosy Crow Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1839941900

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Vivien knows that mermaids don't exist. But she also knows they have to exist – at least in the public eye. For there would be nothing to Lake Splendour – a far northern English resort – without them. A hundred years and change ago, two teenaged girls allegedly spent months with mermaids, but were forced to return to help out with the Great War effort. They also showed female emancipation, which helped create the town's tourism industry, now faded and falling apart but once a feminist success story. Alice, a girl who stumbles into Vivien's gran's tourist shop one day, knows she certainly wants mermaids to exist – she thinks her family's black sheep died searching for them, or else was just too successful in her hunt. When the shy, doubting Thomasina that is Vivien collides with the exuberant, gung-ho Alice, what on earth – or perhaps in water – will they find?

I have to report I certainly found an ungainly beginning. Yes, the prologue is short, but it doesn't help us understand who and what and where and why at all. But then the story goes to the other extreme – first by presenting a tourist office piece of puff, and then having Vivien debate with her erstwhile best friend the claims of lookism and sexism the more 'woke' students are directing at the annual mermaid pageant, and then in having her show the town museum to Alice and discuss it all yet again. Looks and the 'style' of the mermaid are strong themes here, as Vivien, a water baby herself, hates her hair and thinks her inability to fit in is what is keeping her cruise ship-working mother away, seemingly permanently. And of course, her looks will be important when the theme of her crush on Alice comes to the fore.

And if crush is too strong a word, that's partly the book's fault, I feel, for a lot of this seems overblown. Appearance-based bullying is apparently endemic, Vivien and her best boy mate only talk tourism shop as that's the only life they know, while Alice and her grandmother – or should that be versus her grandmother – is once again OTT. Perhaps that's to make sure that when the high drama, the more action-based and less mundane happenings, occur they don't feel out of place.

And it's these scenes that are where this book shines. Forget the contrivance by which they come about, the drama on the water and the spookier nocturnal efforts to connect with the mer-folk are certainly well done. They are what give this book the distinctive feel – a ghostly mermaid that has to be summonsed, 'fetched' or contacted like some spectral Candyman figure is not the routine fairytale variant of the species. And those scenes with what they lead to actually sell the book – and they sell, as in justify, all the many, many scenes of self-doubt, alienation and antagonism that have gone before.

For that ultimately is the theme of the piece, the disconnect a young girl can feel. Alice rails against controlling Oldies, and in the end Vivien feels the need to seek the mermaids she was always sceptical about because she has far too little kinship with anyone else around, to some extent a lack of parental security, and what the tourist figures of mermaids tell her is a non-conformist look. Those themes point of course to the target readers here – and I have to admit that had I ever been a near-pubescent girl I would have gelled with this a lot more than it sounds like I did. I'll state the obvious to close, however, that this book should have been subtle and controlled enough to make sure people outside the expected audience can enjoy it – I doubt boys will take to this well at all, and therefore miss all the closing surprises, and in sticking to one demographic it loses any chance of becoming a classic. To the intended reader this is a more than serviceable prospect, however.

I must thank the publishers for our review copy.

This is the author's sophomore effort, following on from the commendable The House on the Edge. If you want that mermaid story, the place to go has to be The Little Mermaid by Metaphrog. Finally, The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid by Tania Unsworth features an inordinate amount of things in common with the book to hand, from characters called Stella and missing mothers to feelings of being the odd one out. Dare we sound like our old teachers when we suggest you 'compare and contrast'?!

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