Diving Under, by Ginna Moran

I found another YA mermaid series! If you follow my reviews, you know that as an author of a YA mermaid series, I’m always looking for such books. I mean, those authors and I are inspired by the same folklore and mythology, yet we create vastly different worlds and circumstances. I enjoy the stories even more when the merpeople interact with humans who were unaware of their existence. Diving Under, the first part in author Ginna Moran’s Spark of Life series checks off all those boxes along with another favorite of mine—a human unwittingly and/or unwillingly transforming into a mermaid.

So let’s dive in, shall we?

The main character and first-person narrator is Ava Adair. She and her friends have recently graduated high school. They’re taking a cruise on a luxury yacht to celebrate, despite her severe aversion to the ocean. You see, eight years earlier, Ava’s older sister Bailey was swept out to sea. When Ava is accidentally knocked overboard only a few chapters into the story, she sinks like a stone, fearing that her parents are going to lose both of their daughters to the sea.

But Carter, the super-hot deckhand on the yacht, jumps in and saves Ava’s life. Well…he rescues her, but the only way for him to do so is to change her into a mermaid. Woo-hoo! Here’s where the story becomes what I hoped it would.

Ava’s now got this secret that she can’t share with anyone—much to her best friend Giselle’s chagrin. She also has to learn to embrace the ocean. Moran’s choice to give Ava an initial and believable fear of the ocean is a strong decision, as it creates additional obstacles and internal conflict. After all, it’s much more interesting to read about a girl/mermaid who’s afraid of the ocean than one who’s an expert scuba diver.

Also complicating matters, Ava now shares a bond with Carter. Okay, it’s not as big a complication as becoming a mermaid and all because he’s super sexy—a fact that Ava repeatedly narrates. Granted, I’m a middle-aged man and thus, not the target audience of the book. I suspect a teenage girl reading this might enjoy Ava and her friends swooning over Carter’s hotness a little more than I did. Though Ava’s interest in him may have started as physical, I liked how it progressed, particularly when she questions whether he likes her for her or because of the bond between them.

But my favorite part of the book was the mermaid transformation process. Though water would trigger Ava’s change, I appreciated that there were other ways. As a new mermaid, particularly one of human origin, Ava doesn’t yet have full control of her ability to transform back and forth. This is accompanied with an internal—both physical and emotional—conflict about whether to live on land and hide her secret from friends and family or to live in the ocean with Carter and leave her family and friends behind. As she thinks too much about being a mermaid, her transformation can be triggered, and I loved this idea.

She changes into a mermaid several times throughout the course of the story, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly. The unexpected transformations helped build some tension because, like in a fantasy-inspired sitcom (think the Australian H2O, Just Add Water), they occur at some of the most inopportune times. Though I could usually sniff out when one was coming, I never felt the moments to be contrived. They were fun and dramatic.

Moran creates an interesting and vividly described world in which these humans and merpeople coexist. Ava and her friends are obviously upper class (big California beach houses, yacht cruises, and society galas), but they come across as regular kids instead of spoiled rich kids—though some of them are a little oversexed for my YA reading tastes. And the undersea world contains much mystery, as Carter only scratches the surface of what may lie ahead for Ava in subsequent books in the series.

I’ve said in some other reviews of book series that it’s okay for a part to end on a cliffhanger if the primary conflict of the book is resolved in some way. Here, the main storyline is about Ava dealing with the change and debating which future she’s going to choose. There isn’t an external antagonist, which is fine, because this is a story of Ava’s self-discovery and character development. That may make the book feel slow at times, but the ending packed a punch that resulted in me picking up the next part, Treading Water.

Diving Under is a nice introduction into this series, anchored by Ava’s genuine narration. Though she waffles back and forth on some issues, show me a teen that doesn’t. I expect her to grow throughout the next two books, but I still recommend you take the plunge and read this solid new YA mermaid story. I give it FOUR STARS.

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Diving Under is available at Amazon.

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