Water So Deep, by Nichole Giles

Certain aspects of the book description totally screamed the kind of story that I’d enjoy—or even wished I had written! A teenage girl keeping it a secret from her family and friends that she’s slowly becoming a mermaid?! Sign me up now! As soon as I found this book, I couldn’t wait to dive right in. I really wanted to love this book.

The first few chapters nicely introduce the characters and set up the plot. Emma Harris is swimming, which is something she has to do regularly while she’s transitioning. Gills appear on the sides of her neck and scales up her legs, though no full mermaid tail appears. It’s late night after her junior prom—412 days until her ultimate departure to Atlantis—and after her swim, she encounters Merrick, the merman she’s unwillingly promised to. Emma’s boyfriend Tom witnesses the two of them together (she in her bikini, Merrick naked) and enters into a jealous rage that he takes out on Emma in an extremely terrible and physical way.

By the time school starts the following year (323 days to departure), Tom is in jail, and Emma has become a social outcast because Tom’s basketball teammates have trashed her reputation by calling her a liar, ice queen, and other not-so-nice names. Enter new student James, who meets Emma on his first day of school and is immediately smitten with her. Once he asks her out, she gives him the cold shoulder because after her treatment by Tom and Merrick, she doesn’t particularly trust guys. Understandable. And then there’s the whole becoming-a-mermaid secret she’s carrying around and won’t trust anyone with.

After this setup, however, the story drags. The chapters are headed with the countdown (in days) until Emma’s departure, but because the numbers are in the hundreds, there’s a missing sense of urgency to Emma’s impending transformation and inability to survive on land. Meanwhile, James keeps asking Emma out; Emma keeps pushing him away. Emma goes swimming more often; Merrick stalks her, and she tells him she won’t be his mate. Emma tells no one her secret, even though her father is researching ancient Greece, particularly Atlantis. Maybe he could help find a way to stop the change and/or keep Emma on land, but instead Emma’s parents travel to Greece and are out of the picture for a good portion of the book.

I really wanted to love this story. I had expected Emma to have more struggles with her physical changes—imagine living in southern California but not being able to wear flip-flops or people would see her webbed toes. Or having to wear pants or opaque tights to hide her scales. Or wearing turtleneck sweaters to hide her gills. But Emma’s physical transformations are relegated to scenes in the water. The only symptom she experiences is difficulty breathing, and it doesn’t help build the tension.

A lot of time is spent developing James’s background: his family, his finances, and his desire to get a basketball scholarship. Some of it is well-used, such as Tom’s friends on the team trying to poison James’s feelings for Emma. However, most of those chapters take away from the main story about Emma. I feel that the story may have worked much better if it had been solely told from Emma’s point of view.

I feel bad that Emma doesn’t have great relationships with any of the males in her life. Her father is preoccupied and then absent. Her ex-boyfriend was abusive. Her merman-mate-to-be is possessive. Even James, who’s a somewhat decent guy, is obsessive over her. The only positive male relationship she has in the story is with her brother Keith—the most likeable character in the book.

The pace of the book picks up around the 80% part, and all the pieces that combine to make the ending have been planted, but the ending is abrupt and unresolved. It’s my understanding that there will be a second book, but the cliffhanger—if it can even be called that—doesn’t feel earned. I’m okay with multiple books continuing the greater story, but each book needs some resolution or a full character arc. I feel the surface was only skimmed here.

I love the premise of the book, and there are parts that work well, but the overall pace is too slow such that Emma’s circumstances aren’t as tense and urgent as they could be. Water So Deep tries to stay afloat as best it can at THREE STARS.

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Water So Deep is available on Amazon.

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