I went into this book thinking I wouldn’t like it, but I was SO WRONG. This book is a new favorite, surprising me with its complexity.
The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.
Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.
Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.
When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…
The strength of this book came largely from the protagonist, Elyse. I fell in love with her from the first page, and I never stopped feeling for her or wanting to help her heal. I was fascinated by her inability to talk and its effect on the story. A character who literally cannot speak presented a powerful and unique lens to view a story through. My heart broke every time Elyse had some long explanation to say, but kept it inside because she could not convey her lengthy thoughts. I spent a large portion of this book on the brink of tears (though I never actually cried), and most of the times I teared up, it was because of how deeply I empathized with Elyse.
It was not just Elyse’s voicelessness that made her endearing, however. I liked and understood her personality. Her shyness was familiar to me, and the strong sense of loss that dominated her (after she left her homeland to spend the summer in the US) was heart-wrenching without being annoyingly broody or overpowering. I liked that Elyse was an ethnic protagonist (I cannot remember the last time I read a contemporary book that didn’t have a white lead), and the elements of her culture that Elyse brought with her improved and deepened the story.
I loved the motif of Elyse’s poetry that Ockler wove throughout the story. It was a simple way to prove that Elyse did have a clear voice and that she wanted to use it. (On a side note, I loved the hand writing fonts they used to convey her poetry.) The image of Elyse spilling her heart out onto the walls of the abandoned boat she found was beautiful and sad–and provided one of the best Cute Meet scenes ever.
My biggest concern about The Summer of Chasing Mermaids before I read it was the PTSD/damage that Elyse’s character faced. As a rule, stories dominated by mentally wonky characters don’t work for me, and I was afraid that Elyse’s PTSD would dominate the story. It didn’t. Elyse was just damaged enough for it to be realistic, but she still had a personality separate from her trauma. The healing process Elyse underwent over the course of the book was simple and subtle, but complete enough to be inspiring–without ever feeling cheesy, preachy, or sudden. There was no miracle cure, and she never really looked for one, but by the last page of the book, Elyse had clearly grown past the accident that robbed her of her “destiny.”
The main plot of the book surrounds Christian and Elyse fixing his boat in the hopes of winning the regatta–and a bet Christian’s father made that impacts the future of the entire city. (I’m purposefully being vague, guys.) The “boat plot” did a fantastic job of creating a skeleton to carry the rest of the subplots, and gave the book a clear rise toward the climax that left me unable to put the book down (literally–I read this book in essentially one sitting).
The romance between Christian and Elyse was gorgeous and sweet. I love them as a couple. Their transition from strangers to friends to significant others was paced well and felt realistic. Christian was a likable love interest who clearly had his own character; he was not just a hot body for Elyse to fall for. He had depth that many YA males lack–which presented a problem. He was introduced as a playboy who only had flings and never cared about the girls he slept with–but I never bought it. From the early scenes with him, it was clear that Christian was a good, complex guy, who would be good for Elyse. Of course, I was glad that the love interest wasn’t a jerk, but it was unnecessary for Ockler to try to pass him off as the bad boy if none of his actions would ever reflect it.
The other characters added necessary components to the story, but tended to come off flat. One part of the book that suffered because of this was the concept of Elyse’s five sisters. The reader never “met” any of them directly, and Elyse’s twin only appeared in the story for flashbacks and short scenes. I ended up not caring about her sisters, even though that was supposed to be a large portion of Elyse’s character and childhood.
The friends did a good job being friendly to Elyse, but I never felt like I met them. They were just shell of characters who existed to create a friend group and help Elyse heal. Their flatness did not kill the book, but I would have appreciated some suggestions of depth from them.
I hated most of the parents in this book, which was the point. All of the parental figures were believable–and that was what made me so angry. Most of them were horrible, greedy people who used their children as bargaining chips. The discussion of parental control of teenagers’ lives was relatable to the extreme, and I appreciated that Ockler created characters that I know exist in the world today (and that I wish my friends didn’t have to deal with). The juxtaposition of the sons’ friendship and the fathers’ rivalry created emotional conflicts that helped to ensure that The Summer of Chasing Mermaids was more than just a romance.
I was surprised by the social commentary this book. The discussion of gender roles (which tied in gorgeously to the title) was honest and simple, but it made this book memorable. The gender identity subplot tied in with the other plot lines, ensuring that it didn’t feel superfluous or disconnected. It was part of the story, and it got the point across successfully without monopolizing the entire plot.
Connecting to the title, the mermaid motif was a subtle but charming part of the plot. I liked how it connected subplots and added whimsy to the story. I can’t say I was a fan of the moments when the mermaid motif became almost paranormal, but that was because of personal issues with magical elements cropping up in contemporary stories, not because the scenes hurt the book–they didn’t. I will say that the melodramatic prologue was absolutely unnecessary and only served to confuse me. If you’re thinking about picking this book up, just skip the first few pages. The plot circles back around to them anyway, so you aren’t (in my opinion, but feel free to challenge me in the comment section) missing anything.
I would recommend this book to people who are skeptical of YA Chicklit. My sister (who has famously given up on contemporary YA) read this book and really enjoyed it, possibly more than me. The depth and power of this book put it in its own league, far above the simple romance-driven plots normally found in this genre.