Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—tale, “The Little Mermaid,” Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost. There is more than one way to drown. Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light? Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed? Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right? When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?
Brooke is a young woman who is trying a new healing facility for her anxiety. She is not sure if it will help and a bit skeptical of the people there. Her soon-to-be best friend is a younger girl with a history of self-harm. She has a difficult journey ahead of her, and she has already learned to be wary of the world.
Merrick is a wealthy boy who is somewhat directionless. His father would like him to go to college and is therefore not giving him his inheritance (though he is paying for room and board) until Merrick decides what he wants to do. Merrick sees his father as the villain in his own life, and when his little sister Amaya (Maya) attempts suicide, he believes his father is behind it. When his mother disappears after the attempt, Merrick decides to take his sister and go on a quest to find his mother, who he is convinced will help. However, Merrick is in pain and things are not quite the way he sees them.
In terms of what worked well in this book, the take on mental illness, suicidailty, depression, and anxiety were really strong. Through the characters, particularly Coral and Brooke, but also Amaya, the reader sees the toll these can take, the benefits/challenges of treatments, and also the problems with the societal stigmas against mental illness (particularly/most blatantly through Coral's family).
The difficulty with the story for me was following the different characters/timelines. I felt like I was reading a few different stories, and the changes between perspectives were too abrupt for me to easily flow between. There is a twist with the perspectives, which was not hard to figure out from earlier on (though how exactly they would fit in time was more challenging), but keeping it a secret twist also made it harder to follow for me. The romance was a bit hard to buy into also, mainly because the main story weighs so heavily that the romance felt too tertiary to the plot for me.
This is a heavy read, and I would recommend considering the trigger warnings by the author very carefully before diving in. I would also not go into this expecting a Little Mermaid retelling- while drawing some inspiration from the Little Mermaid, this book is something unique and entirely different with deep ramifications for mental illness and understanding of these.