Second Hand Pages

The Surface Breaks Book Review

Ah, the little mermaid. A childhood memory, a story about love, life and the happiest of endings. Well, my friends – this is not that kind of story. This is a story of blood and pain, desire and fears.

Louise O’Neill has crafted a story of a head strong girl coming of age in a world that does everything to suppress her. Proceed with caution.

★ ★ ★ ★

Author: Louise O’Neill
Publisher: Scholastic US
Format/Source: Audiobook

From GoodReads: Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is re-imagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding. 

“I like my body. And while I value my own opinion over those of men, it might surprise you to know that some prefer a woman of more plentiful flesh. It is nothing to be ashamed of –we all have our preferences –but they have been forced to feel ashamed even so.”

The Book Dragon Breaks Down…..

Plot: ★★★★
World:
★★★★
Writing:
★★★★★
Character Development:
★★★★★

…the writing…..

This is the first novel I have read by O’Neill, so I did not know what to expect. I remember reading the phrase ‘knife sharp wit’ regarding her writing, and I can easily see why. With precise, yet engrossing prose, it was easy to get lost in the story, while still being able to embrace the fierce cunning and clever commentary that lined the dialogue.

This novel is feminist as fuck, and I am not sorry. From the description of the pain women endure from societal expectations to the realization that women are more powerful than men let them believe, O’Neill crafted a story that kept me screaming in fury and triumph for the women of the novel – especially for the sisters who endured sexual assaults and broken hearts in order to make themselves seem as though they were perfect and happy ladies, there to serve the mermen.

I wasn’t sure what exactly I was expecting when I started the book, but what I got was a refreshing, honest, and well written tale.

…the plot….

The story is very much the direct plot of the TLM. As a retelling, that’s not surprising, but the story isn’t exactly what you think it is going to be either. As the novel progresses, several turn of events – two expected and the rest not at all- add to the building suspense of what is going to happen to our sweet girl.

If political satire, in your face references and liberal commentary is not your thing, I would say that this book probably would not be for you. It is very heavy in comparisons to the modern world and the movements and issues that face women now. I, personally, loved the powerful messages that are scattere through out the novel.

...the characters…

Our main character, Gaia, is a precocious and clever mermaid, unsettled with her life under the water. She is betrothed to a man old enough to be her father, and forced into a life that she wants no part of. However, Gaia also knows that she can do nothing about this, struggling to accept her reality.
The character development in this novel is what truly kept me engaged.

O’Neill did a phenomenal job taking Gaia through the stages of understanding. It was breath taking to watch as Gaia began to realize that there was so much more to the world, her own and the one above, than her father had ever let on. Shrouded in fear and secrets, Gaia became a new, better version of herself as she stepped out of those shrouds and into the sunlight.

One of the more beautiful moments for me was when Gaia realized that not everyone wanted a woman who was silent and complacent. The ability for her to truly be herself was something that she ached for – but something she was willing to give up for love. It made me root for Gaia even more when she realized that both could be possible.

If I’m honest, I really wasn’t overly thrilled with any of the supporting characters, though I was very intrigued by Ceto. She was hands down the best character in the book. I would love to see a novel focused around her and her girls.

Ceto, the sea witch is a rich and vibrant character. She was the catalyst in the story, showing Gaia what she could have, what she could be. Ceto’s comfort in her own skin, her willingness to confront the wrong doings and patriarchy. It was no surprise that Ceto manipulates those around her, but I found myself enthralled with her anyways – her complete lack of regard of niceties, and the power that she wears so well. I found myself rooting for her far more than Gaia, wanting her to come out on top – even though I knew that meant despair for our little mermaid.

….final thoughts…

And with that, my heart is full and shattered all at once.

Feminist princesses, lesbian princesses, girls who save themselves, and details rooted in the origins of TLM make this novel one of my favorites of the year. I was skeptical going in, but with the hard hitting topics, skillfully woven world, and beautifully flawed characters I was quickly won over. This was easily one of the best under the sea retellings I’ve read in a long time – and I’m not sorry for it!

tl;dr

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