Emerge, by Tobie Easton

As a YA author whose debut book is a story about mermaids, I assigned myself a mission to read similar books in the genre, and I’ve enjoyed them to varying degrees. Well, there’s a new fish in the ocean: Emerge by Tobie Easton. This is her first novel, and the blurb sounded interesting, so I decided to give her a chance—one debut YA mermaid author to another.

You know what? I’m overjoyed she emerged on the YA mermaid scene.

Our narrating protagonist is Aurelia Nautilus (Lia for short). She and her family live in a sprawling mansion on a private beach in Malibu, complete with underwater grottos. Lia and her family (dad, mom, three sisters, and a younger cousin) are all mermaids living on land to escape the ravages of war under the waves. Ever since the infamous “little mermaid” incident, mermaids have lost their immortality. This has caused power struggles as different factions try to break the curse. Easton weaves Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale so deftly into her unique mermaid world that the two complement each other perfectly.

Lia has had some difficulty adjusting to a human high school. When mermaids reach puberty (awesome detail), they can start switching their tails for legs. Maintaining those legs requires much concentration, which is particularly challenging for Lia in gym class. She’s got a huge crush on a boy in her classes named Clay, but he’s human, and it’s forbidden for mermaids to enter into long-term relationships with humans. There’s a young merman named Caspian, who has been Lia’s closest friend since childhood, and there’s a hint that her family would like them to couple up.

This has all the set-up for one of those typical YA love triangles, but it never feels like one because the narration is so freshly in Lia’s voice. She insists Caspian is devoted to her as a dear friend, and it’s clear he has her best interests at heart. She doesn’t have a clue about how Clay feels about her, so she stresses about that. She’s a teenage girl trying to find her identity, her place in the world, even though she lives somewhere between two worlds. More on that later.

However, a love triangle does develop when new girl Mel appears at school and works her magic on Clay. To avoid spoiling anything, even this doesn’t feel like a typical love triangle. Sure, Lia’s jealous that Clay is enchanted by Mel, but there are deeper motives at play. Clay may be in danger, and Lia cares about him too much. That’s all I’m saying, and I haven’t said anything you can’t learn from the book description, but this conflict really develops.

The stakes are excitingly raised, not only by Mel’s actions, but by Lia’s counteractions. One of many strengths of the book is the complexity of Lia’s character. As I said, she’s caught between the two worlds, trying to do what her parents and mermaid community expect of her but also trying to do what she thinks is best for Clay. She’s not a passive character by any means. She takes action; she makes choices. Some of those choices aren’t the best choices, but her rich narration made me the reader fully understand why she made them, even when she knows they’re wrong. Her inner conflicts—human vs. mermaid, parental expectations vs. personal desires, and right vs. wrong—drive this story deeper. In many YA books, protagonists get away too easily with breaking the rules. It’s much more compelling and believable to acknowledge the consequences of one’s actions, whether it’s broken trust or other punishments. Lia’s story, straight through its gripping climax to its well-earned resolution, is greater for addressing such consequences.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a heavy tale (or tail?) because there’s also a lot of lightness and heart to it. The supporting cast, particularly her sisters, is fun. There’s great humor (sea puns are obligatory in these kind of books—I’ve written a few myself—but there were some new and funny ones here). There are sweetly developed relationships between the characters. And Lia’s internal monologue about the ups and downs of trying to fit in and keep her tail hidden sparkle on the page and in the imagination.

If you love mermaids, you need to own this book. If you love YA fantasy or romance, you need to read this book. Heck, if you just love well-written stories, you need to read this book. It’s billed as book one of the Mer Chronicles, so there’s a sequel (or is it sea-quel?) coming, for which I’ll wait with bated (or is it bait-ed?) breath. Till then, Emerge emerges with FIVE STARS.

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Emerge is available at Amazon.

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