Juniper Sawfeather is a seventeen-year-old daughter of environmental activists. When she accompanies her father to document damage at a reported oil spill, she discovers three humans washed up on the beach, struggling to breathe through the oil coating their skin. At first she thinks they must be surfers, but as she gets closer, she realizes these aren’t human at all.They’re mermaids!
And they aren’t like mermaids she’s read about in fairy tales.Now begins a complex story of intrigue, conspiracy and manipulation as June, her parents, a marine biologist (and his handsome young intern), her best friend, the popular clique at school, and the oil company fight over the fate of the mermaids.
Finally, the environmental activists / mermaid story that I’ve been waiting for. To be honest, I don’t know why there aren’t more books about environmental activists and mermaids (or selkies, or sea dragons.) It seems like it should go hands in hands, but so far the only place where I’ve seen the subject truly explored is in not-for-profit online fiction.
Until this book, that is. Cry of the Sea is a perfect exemple of modern fantasy where the fantastical elements are handled in a way that mesh perfectly with the real world. The plot has both complex real-world elements, like an oil spill and legal battles and high school and viral videos on facebook, and it also has native american mythology and telepathic mermaids.
The main character, Juniper, is the daughter of two world famous activists. Her father is a native american man who deeply respects his culture and the world and wants to save both, and her mother is a lawyer who fights the good fight against huge corporations. June herself wants to continue her parents’ fight but not in the same exact way, that is by going to school to study marine biology very, very far away from her hometown.
This book is a book that I wished had been around when I was a teen. I would have loved it, possibly even more that I did now, because this book truly understands the teenage psyche. While very serious subjects are explored, like the environment and a huge oil compagny hiding the discovery of mermaids from the world, the main character is at that strange age between teen and adult, and the story handles that brilliantly. She’s in her last year of high school, the part where people are starting to choose what they’ll do with their lives and where more teenage concerns start to be put aside, but adults are still treating you like a kid. June has to handle both the discovery of the mermaid and her future as a marine biologist, but also she still needs to show up to school and has to deal with bullies and her attraction to a hot guy.
More importantly, she has to deal with a friend who is also going through her transition to adult, and whose main concerns no longer aligns with her own. That’s the one part of the story that bugged me, not because it wasn’t realistic but because it was too much so, and hit too close to home. June’s best friend wants to be popular, and does things that hurt June in the process. And not only does that impact June herself, but it also impacts other people and Junes has to decide wether to forgive her… or not.
Just like I once did, June goes through practically all the stages of grief, from denial to anger to acceptance, and it was startling to see a book get all of it so right. To be honest I wouldn’t have forgiven her friend, but I also wish that the « mean girls » had been less stereotypically mean. At points, they seemed like they had deeper inner lives, and that perhaps they really did want to help with the whole mermaid situation. I think that it would have been cool if the story had turned out to be about a group of teenage girls putting aside their differences and saving the day. I mean, it almost was. The ending we did get, however, does have it’s share of good points. And it definitely opens up the door for sequels.
Another aspect of teenage life the book does well is the romance. It never steals the spotlight, for once. Despite June being full of hormones and anxieties and having her head turned around for the hot college boy, she still keeps her mind on the bigger picture. She still unashamedly loves things and care about marine life, as well as her new mermaid friend. I was suspicious when he told her that she was « not like other girls, » because the last thing that I want is for my YA to pull his old and bored trope, but thankfully all the characters are developed enough that it never becomes an issue. She’s not like other girls, but other girls pull their weight too.
Speaking of other girls, let’s mention the one most important girl of this whole story: the mermaid. We didn’t really see a lot of her, as the whole story is more about her discovery than about her, and that was a sure shame. I would have taken a hundred pages full of scenes like the one in the tank. Heck, I would have taken a whole book of it. Cry of the Sea’s mermaids are very interesting creatures, a mix of sea animal and people, with telepathic or at least empathic abilities. The question of wether the mermaids are people or animals is thrown around several times in the story, and I while I wish we could have been able to answer the question ourselves, I still think that the ending works well the way it is. As long as the sequels lets us see her again, that is.
Speaking of sequels: Cry of the Sea has two sequels, with the last book very recently released, as I’m led to understand. I will definitely been picking those up and telling you all about it.
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