Holding My Breath, by Susan Soares

HMBmediumI had the pleasure of receiving an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m a fan of mermaids. If you’ve followed my reviews, you also know that I’m a fan of author Susan Soares. I’ve reviewed her previous YA books: the paranormal comedic romance My Zombie Ex-Boyfriends, the poignant Heart on a String, and the outstanding teen-searching-for-identity My Rebellion Checklist. Naturally, I’d be excited about any new book from her, but a book about mermaids? Yeah, I’m diving in.

Towards the summer before her sophomore year of high school, Shelby is about to move so her conservative mother can start a new job. Naturally, she’s upset about it because she’s lived in the same small town all her life, close to her best friend forever Leyla. Sure, the two will keep in touch via email, social media, and video calls—they won’t be that far away from each other—but like most teens, Shelby is afraid of the impending change.

While her mother is away preparing for the job/move, Shelby attends an end-of-summer costume party and dresses in a way that her mother would disapprove: she dresses as an alluring mermaid. She rents the costume from an odd little shop and receives a bizarre warning from the strange man who owns the shop: DON’T FALL ASLEEP IN THE COSTUME.

We all know how fiction works. When such a warning is issued, the characters are either going to (a) deliberately ignore it, (b) actively doubt it, or (c) get distracted and forget about it. Well, Shelby does (b) and (c), and then something really bizarre happens. She wakes up the next morning stuck in the mermaid costume! She can still walk—well, waddle—but the fabric has somehow melded to her skin. She can’t peel it off or cut it off. Frustrated, she returns to the shop and learns that this isn’t just a standard wardrobe malfunction. She’s slowly becoming a mermaid…and she’s not the first.

The shopkeeper is harboring three other mermaid/girls in a big inflatable pool in the basement. They all had big changes going on at home, and they all rented the costume and fell asleep in it. Now, they’ve lost their memories and lounge in the pool without worries of their previous lives. Within the week, the same will happen to Shelby unless the shopkeeper and his swoon-worthy nephew Ryan can save her.

Like in her previous works, Soares excels at first-person narration. Shelby is a likeable narrator right from the start, and it’s easy to relate to her apprehension to the upcoming change in her life. The reader is fully immersed in the description of what’s happening to her as the costume constricts around her legs and ultimately envelops her feet. Even more impressive are the shifts in narration when Shelby’s mind is pulled under by the costume’s spell.

Also, I love stories that have a “ticking clock” element to them. Having that deadline really ratchets up the tension and allows the story to naturally build to the climax. Shelby’s body and mind are changing, but is that as bad as her address changing? The final tagline in the book description reads: “What’s worse? Moving away from everything you’ve ever known, or never even remembering those you’d be leaving behind?” It’s a great statement and a great theme. Thus, the mermaid transformation becomes a deep symbol for a life transformation. You either find a way to deal with the change, or you’re stuck floundering.

My only quibble with the story is that the “rules” of the costume aren’t fully realized and the cure seems somewhat arbitrary. Soares skirts around this issue through the first-person narration of Shelby not fully knowing or understanding it all—it’s mostly left to the old shopkeeper. But this quibble is coming from a male forty-something-year-old reader/fellow-author. I’m far from the book’s intended audience of upper middle grade and young adult girls. That target pre-teen audience will love this book.

And there’s a lot to love in the book. It’s an adorable fantasy populated with fun, realistic characters, and its message is strong. I’m holding Holding My Breath in high esteem with FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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Holding My Breath is available at Amazon.

Read the spotlight of author Susan Soares HERE.

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