Review Detail

Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
4.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0

dark, imaginative, and enthralling

THE SURFACE BREAKS is a slow-building retelling of The Little Mermaid. While staying true to the classic, this story adds a lot in terms of sexism and the oppression of women. Muirgen (aka Gaia, Grace) is the youngest daughter of the sea king and a mermaid. She is turning fifteen when the book begins, and she is betrothed to Zale, an old man and a warrior of the sea who has made it his mission to kill all the Rusalkas.

Muirgen is desperate to escape. As a mermaid, she has been raised to know that her only value is in her beauty- her long hair, her pretty face, her thinness, and her silence. Under the sea, the sea king wields his power, often with violence and always with the oppression of women, who have no figurative voice. When Muirgen sees a boy on a ship, she feels that she loves him instantly, and when the Rusalkas (essentially sirens, less beautiful mermaid-type creatures who were once human but died due to the cruelty of men and thus lure men to their deaths) have him, Muirgen pulls him away and brings him to shore.

Thinking that her love of him will save her, she goes to the only person who might help her- the sea witch, Ceto. Ceto agrees to help her- for a price. However, with an abusive man as her future husband and hope for a better life on land, Muirgen is willing to pay any price. She is also hopeful that she may learn what happened to her mother who disappeared/died when she was one year old when captured by humans. However, once she reaches land, things are much more complicated than Muirgen would have anticipated and time runs quickly towards her end.

What I loved: Ceto was my absolute favorite character here, and she speaks some important truths. In terms of this being a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, you can see it in the messages you take away- plus in pretty much everything Ceto says. While there is instalove, this actually is explained and drawn out further in the rest of the book in a way that pokes fun at the notion (e.g. as Ceto points out, this is lust- not love), and I actually really enjoyed this explanation, especially since, in the book, this comes in part because of the way girls are raised and taught about their emotions/bodies.

Other thoughts: The book begins slowly with long, drawn-out world-building before we get to the key parts. Once it moves into the fairytale, it does speed up quite a bit. I do understand the necessity of building up the world also, and the pace does get faster through the book. I would add warnings for sexual assault (multiple instances), physical and emotional abuse, torture, fat-shaming/extreme sexism, and homophobia. As such, I would recommend for older readers.

Final verdict: With many truths (Ceto) and lessons to be learned throughout, this retelling lives up to its description, an important feminist take on The Little Mermaid. THE SURFACE BREAKS is an engrossing and fascinating read with many takeaways that add a lot to the value of the story. I would recommend for older YA readers who are looking for a strong fairytale retelling and/or a dark and engaging fantasy read.

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