The Siren, by Kiera Cass

“A girl with a secret. The boy of her dreams. An Ocean between them.”

What a fantastic tagline on the gorgeous front cover of this book! It so perfectly sums up the plot and conflict of the story in ways I didn’t realize when I started the book. Notice how Ocean is capitalized. Hmmm…what could that mean? A not-really-a-spoiler will follow about that.

I first became aware of this book because it appears in the “Customers who viewed this item also viewed” list on the Amazon product page of my own book. After all, both are contemporary-set YA fantasies with mythological aquatic creatures. Where mine features mermaids, this features sirens—those enchantresses who can mesmerize sailors with their songs and lead them to their death in the ocean depths. A relative of mermaids, perhaps? Either way, I was intrigued.

Meanwhile, my school has a daily fifteen-minute silent reading period. One of my students was reading this book! I mentioned I was interested in it, so she lent it to me after she finished reading it, and then I dove right it willingly.

And I was thoroughly enchanted.

The story begins eighty years before present day with the introduction of our narrator, Kahlen. She is traveling by boat with her family when an otherworldly beautiful song compels everyone to jump overboard. Kahlen too, but once under, she hears another voice asking her if she wants to be saved. Death by drowning vs. being saved?—there’s an option where she lives, so she takes it, but it comes with a consequence.

She is reborn, so to speak, as a siren. She won’t get sick or injured, and she won’t age. She is physically beautiful. But she is deadly—her voice alone will cause people to drown themselves—and she is in service to Mother Ocean, who must be sustained by feeding on humans. If there aren’t enough naturally occurring shipwrecks, She will call upon Her sirens to bring humans to Her. After one hundred years of service, Kahlen will be released and allowed to start life anew, without the memories of being a siren.

Flash-forward to present day, where Kahlen and a couple of her siren sisters are living in a beach house in Miami not too far from a college. It’s there, while sitting on campus, that Kahlen meets Akinli and starts feeling butterflies in her tummy for him. Unlike other guys who may be interested in her and her sisters for their beauty, Akinli seems more interested in knowing who she is on the inside, even if she can’t speak to him.

Because her voice, even when simply speaking, is dangerous, Kahlen communicates with sign language, little notes, and eventually text messages. This was handled exceptionally well, and it was so sweet reading about Akinli’s interest in her and hers in him. Is it insta-love? Who cares?! The development of their relationship was enjoyable to read.

Obviously, Kahlen’s budding romance with Akinli is fraught with conflict. Maybe they can manage the communication barrier. Maybe he won’t notice if she mysteriously leaves once a year to bring down another ship. But with twenty years left in her service/sentence, he would get quite suspicious when he aged and she didn’t. Or maybe he’ll wonder why she doesn’t get hurt. So she can’t stay with him, as much as she wants to. It just won’t work, but she can’t forget him, even with periodic relocations with her “sisters.”

Speaking of which, I also enjoyed the relationship Kahlen had with those “sisters.” I recently read another book about a mystical teen girl who was part of such a group, and I found those characterizations to be flat, almost to the point of indistinguishability. That was not the issue here. Elizabeth, Miaka, retiring siren Aisling, and eventual siren Padma were all distinct and fully realized characters, and I believed the interaction between the girls and their strong devotion to one another.

But the standout relationship, for me anyway, was between Kahlen and Ocean. Not only is there a metaphorical ocean of problems keeping Kahlen and Akinli apart, but there’s a literal Ocean who forbids the sirens from loving mortals. Ocean doesn’t take mothers or wives for a very specific—and compassionate—reason, but Ocean doesn’t like it when someone else makes the waves. Their relationship is the most complex, containing undercurrents of a mother-daughter relationship at the point when the daughter has grown from child to adult and seeks independence instead of simply being obedient. They both care for each other deeply, they confide in each other (particularly when the visions of past shipwrecks haunt Kahlen), they both get angry with each other, and they both grow and learn.

The plot flows nicely, and the stakes rise to tidal-wave proportions, which I shall not spoil. A mystery develops in the final quarter of the book, which at first seemed to come out of nowhere to me. However, the clues to solve it were rolled out at a satisfying pace and led to an ending that made me teary-eyed a few times.

Even with the fantasy elements, this had a great contemporary YA romance feel, and it was a pleasure to read. The novel effectively displays and/or alludes to different types of love: romantic love, the idea of soul mates, and more importantly, the love between friends so close they’re like sisters, and between a mother and daughter. This Siren had me under its spell for FIVE STARS.

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The Siren is available at Amazon.

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