The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (Simon Pulse, 2 June 2015)
I absolutely ADORED this book. As I'm writing this review a few weeks after I finished it, I still haven't been able to stop thinking about how awesome this book is and trying to make everyone I know read it. I can't talk about this book without just gushing. It's wonderfully feminist, sex-positive, intersectional and just a really beautiful and powerful story.
Elyse is an 18-year-old girl from Tobago, who has recently moved to Atargatis Cove in Oregon, a small, quiet seaside town, to live with her cousin Kirby after a devastating accident at home left her unable to speak. She had been hoping to become a singer along with her sister, but with her dreams now burnt to ashes, she's taking some time away to recover and to get away from it all. She spends her evenings listening to music and writing poetry in what appears to be a disused boat – until Christian Kane, notorious playboy, returns home to the Cove for the summer and she finds out that the boat is in fact Christian's. When Christian is challenged to a boat race against his friend Noah, with the future of the Cove at stake, Elyse ends up working with Christian to get his boat ready for the race, and as they spend more time together, she begins to figure out what she wants, and how to find her voice again.
I must admit found the beginning just a tad slow and it took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did, I was utterly blown away. Ockler's writing is stunning. It kept bringing me close to tears again and again.
The setting was wonderful; I always do love reading YA set in small communities where you really get a sense of how the community works. The sea was such a strong element in the story as well, linking Tobago and Atargatis Cove, and Elyse's past, present and future – the sea is a character in itself, and I love the role it plays.
Elyse. ELYSE. I love the intersectionality with her character; how she feels even more out of place and silenced in a way as one of the few black girls in this small community in the US, and as a girl who can't even speak to make herself heard. I love how she spends the book learning how to live with and come to terms with her new disability; it's something that really hits her hard because she was going to build a career in singing before the accident, and singing was such a strong part of her life and her identity, the life she shared with her sister, with whom she was so close, and now she feels like she's lost it all and she doesn't even quite know who she is anymore or what she's meant to do with her life.
Her journey in this book is so powerful and moving. I loved that this was a story about losing your voice and finding it again, and that Ockler really emphasised how one can lose one's voice in many ways, not just literally, and that even if you can't actually speak, you can still have a voice and express yourself in so many different ways: you can still fight for yourself and the ones you love, you can still have passion and ambition and be an influential person and make a difference in the world. Elyse is truly an inspirational character.
The love story between her and Christian was just gorgeous. There was a lot of development, a slow build, and so much lovely interaction between the two of them. You can tell Christian really cares about her; he's attentive and he always makes sure to pay attention to what Elyse has to say and to encourage her in everything.
I have to mention that there's a female masturbation scene! It's absolutely amazing to see such a scene described in as much detail as any YA sex scene: it's not one throwaway line in this book, but it's a really beautiful and integral part of how Elyse expresses her desire and her attraction to Christian. This book doesn't shy away from her desire and it's so awesome. Really, this is probably the hottest YA book I've ever read: there are so many incredibly intimate and sexy scenes between Elyse and Christian. The whole book is so sex-positive! I loved that there was a scene where the girls in this book were just sitting around having a funny and casual conversation about sex, whether they were having it or not having it, and it was all okay.
One of the other highlights of the story for me was Sebastian Kane, Christian's little brother. SEBASTIAN KANE IS THE CUTEST. Okay, normally I don't gush over small children (I don't particularly like them in real life) but oh my gosh, Sebastian is the cutest little boy I have ever seen in fiction or otherwise! He loves mermaids and knows all about them and wants to march in the Cove's mermaid parade, but they won't let him because boys aren't allowed, and it's so heartbreaking and wonderful to see Elyse fight for him. Every time he talks to Elyse or Christian my heart just melts into a gooey mess because he is just so incredibly sweet and perceptive in many ways and he and Elyse have a unique understanding of each other.
I cannot recommend this book enough. If you want a scorching summer romance, this book is that. If you want an empowering story about finding your voice and using it to the best of your ability, this book is also that. It's a true treasure.