Finfolk Friday: Rebellious Mermaiding

Ahoy, Bookwyrms! The breezes may be a little less balmy these days, but the ship’s chronometer says it’s still summer! After a gorgeous day on the Lake Michigan coast (which is an inland freshwater sea, according to my headcanon), I’m inspired to continue my rebellious reading journey with two stories of subversive sea beings. I mean, if you can call just being your true self subversive.

One is the shocking tale of a boy who unleashes his true mermaid self on the totally supportive streets of Coney Island. The other is a scandalous summer romance between a self-repressed human girl and a totally #NoFilter selkie.

This is a two-page review – pg 1 is Mostly Harmless Waters if you haven’t read The Girl From the Sea, by Molly Knox Ostertag (I do talk about the general tone of the ending), while pg 2 is Spoiler Territory.

Playlist:

These brash and/or briny tunes are sure to call up those feisty finfolk to disrupt your plans and lay bare your true desires.

  • “Bubbles,” by Kalbells
  • “Head Over Feet,” by Alanis Morissette
  • “Runaway,” by Aurora
  • “Origami Dreams,” by Christelle Bofale
  • “Synonynonym,” by tUnE-yArDs

And, of course, there’s always my Sirens and Selkies playlist on Spotify to put you in the mood for wild salt breezes and sweet selkie kisses.

Coffee Pairing: Make yourself a sea-salt caramel mer-chiatto with Allegro Roasters’ Pride Blend! I picked this up at Lakeshore Coffee & Specialties in Michigan City, Indiana — a very cozy coffee cottage just a five minute drive from the beach. This isn’t an ad, I swear. 😆 Just me being a goofy coffee addict as usual. But srsly, I’d drive the two hours back to Michigan City just to hang out at Lakeshore some more. It low-key reminds me of my favorite-ever coffee house in Milwaukee, with its second-floor wrap-around balcony and nautical vibe.

Cover of Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love.  A boy stands proudly on the sidewalk, one hand on his hip and the other raised, palm up, toward the sky, head tilted back like a BOSS.

He wears a gauzy white curtain tied around his waist, which he has knotted near the end so it looks like a mermaid tail.  He also has a headdress made of ferns and flowers.

Jessica Love. Julián is a Mermaid. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018.

Rating: 5 out of 5 crowns and helmets and headdresses shaped like squid heads and stingrays and coral reefs.

Recommended if you like: soft-spoken stories that show much more than they tell; quietly bold illustrations that smudge the line between fantasy and reality; a near-total lack of drama or controversy.

What do you do when your grandson pulls down the window curtain and takes apart the potted plants to make himself a mermaid costume like the women he saw on the train? Give him a pearl necklace to complete the look and take him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

This is Good Clean Babysitting Fun* (TM), where the only serious question is whether Julián’s abuela will mind that he dismantled her home decor.

Spoiler Alert: she doesn’t.

Cover of The Girl From the Sea, by Molly Knox Ostertag.  A girl with shoulder-length black hair reaches over the edge of a sea rock to touch hands with another girl, who is underwater.  The second girl has long white-blond hair and is surrounded by kelp stalks.

Molly Knox Ostertag. The Girl From the Sea. New York: Scholastic, 2021.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rad dolphin t-shirts that turn into glam-tastic party dresses in a pinch.

Recommended if you like: Semi-bittersweet fae-human romances. Stories about That Summer That Changed Everything. Manic Pixie Dream Girls with their own personal motivations and flaws. Sapphic first-love stories.

It’s a dark and stormy night. While her friends plan their start-of-summer shenanigans, Morgan goes for a walk on the cliffside, slips and hits her head, and falls into the water.

She decides it must’ve been a near-death-experience hallucination that brought forth the semi-naked girl with those big sweet-on-you eyes and brazenly flirty attitude. Just Morgan’s repressed desires breaking loose for a moment.

Psych! The mermaid version of Luna Lovegood waltzes up to Morgan’s front door the next morning and announces that, whoops!, that late-night kiss sealed (😉) their destinies together or whatever. Sounds sketch, but she is really cute and what harm would it do to spend one day with her?

What follows is a delightful Secret Girlfriend vs. The Cool Crowd teen rom com that’s also about family drama and saving baby seals.

An excerpted image from The Girl from the Sea.  In one panel, you see a small group of baby seals lounging on the sand. The panel below that shows a close-up of Morgan's face, her pupils filled with stars as she gasps and says Baby. Seals.

Particularly delightful details: When Keltie is talking with the other seals, their words are drawn as little chicken scratches inside of vaguely heart-shaped speech bubbles. Also, sealskins are made of moonlit bubbles and selkies are something beyond either human or seal. As Keltie puts it, she can look human or seal when she needs to, but her true self is inside. Maybe she’s really an amorphous water spirit, like the Ocean in Moana.

Also, although I do love stories where a selkie’s ocean skills transfer from into their human forms, I also like when they have stronger limits — when their human forms are more literally human (other than the eerie eyes that can just barely be explained away as unique). Tl;dr, just because Keltie’s a selkie doesn’t mean she can win Olympic medals in human form. The whole seven year thing (see pg. 2 for more details) means she hasn’t had much practice with human swimming, so her skills are realistically limited.

The only thing that lowered my rating is that the story didn’t have to end the way it did. As in Patricia Wrede’s Calling On Dragons, there was a less dramatic solution that could’ve worked for everyone. I’m not totally sure it’s a plot hole or if it actually makes sense with Keltie’s impulsive tendencies, but either way, a more unequivocally happy ending would’ve made equal sense.

Anyhoo, Keltie is adorable and I’d love to hear more about why dolphins are the true rulers of the ocean.

*

Credits:

“Good Clean Babysitting Fun” © The Babysitters Club Club podcast.

Baby Seals image from another review of The Girl by I Blame the Kyriarchy on tumblr.

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Continue into SPOILER TERRITORY, if you dare.

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