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Fintastic: the rise of mermaids and sirens

Photo by flickr user merwing little dear

While the current trend in YA lit seems to have shifted to dystopian stories, paranormal romance is still going strong. First there were vampires, then there were werewolves, and now among the fallen angels and immortals and faeries, mermaids are really making a splash (boo, I know).

What is it about mermaids that readers of YA lit find so romantic and enthralling? I think they get at something on a psychological level: like werewolves, mermaids let characters explore different identities other than their human ones, and often force characters to choose between one life or another. But while werewolves are powerful, frightening, animal, mermaids are often associated with beauty and grace. (That’s certainly not always the case, though: mermaids can also be ferocious, or mixed in with siren mythology and portrayed as temptresses.) Either way, mermaid stories seem to tap into qualities we traditionally label as feminine and make us consider identity and belonging.

As autumn approaches, prolong your summer just a bit longer with some of these fantastic finned reads!

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
Originally published in 1998 (and among the 1999 Best Books for Young Adults), this would be a great book to revisit now that mermaids are in. It’s a tragic story of the love between a siren and a mortal man who can grant her immortality.

The Mermaid’s Mirror by LK Madigan
Lena has always been fascinated by the sea and wants to learn to surf. Her father forbids it, fearing for her safety, but she can’t resist the water, and her life is changed forever when she glimpses a beautiful woman with a tail. Madigan won the Morris award in 2010 for her novel Flash Burnout.

Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau
For a younger crowd, Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings explores the tragedy of Jade, a plus-size aqua-phobic mermaid who’s trying to find out how her mother drowned when she’s the one who gave Jade her mermaid genes in the first place–and get through the trials and tribulations of normal teen life, too!

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter
Luce is attacked and falls from a cliff into the sea–but instead of dying, she becomes a mermaid and begins to understand exactly what that means. The mermaids here are mean and are born from brutal circumstances–which may explain why they try to lure people to their deaths.

Siren by Tricia Rayburn
Vanessa’s sister dies in what seems like a cliff-diving accident, but when other bodies–men and boys with huge grins on their faces–wash up on shore, Vanessa needs to get to the bottom of things. The sirens show up late in this book, but they’re the key to the mystery.

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs
Lily grew up a mermaid princess but discovered that her mother was human and has been trying to live a human life. Protecting her identity is hard enough, but when she falls hard for Brody, a swimming superstar, things get even tougher. This book is just packed with mermaid- and fish-related puns.

Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs
Tempest just wants to be normal, but at seventeen, she’ll have to choose between being a human or living as a mermaid like her mother did. It may not just be her own fate she’s deciding, either: the entire ocean is at stake. A current nominee for the Readers’ Choice Award.

Are there any other great mermaid or siren books you’ve read recently?

— Gretchen Kolderup, currently reading How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg

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  1. […] really excited for autumn, but if you’re sad to say goodbye to summer, check out the mermaid and siren books I wrote about at The Hub. I also muse a little bit about what it is about mermaids that makes them so interesting. Share […]

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  2. I just read Ripple, about a teenage girl who discovers that her urge to swim all night long is because she is a Siren. She considers it a curse. There’s a bit of romance and mystery in it, and while I didn’t love it as much as a feel good mermaid story, I was still fascinated.

    • I really like it when mermaid stories get in to how being a mermaid works. I just listened to Undercurrent (the second book in the trilogy that starts with Siren), and the protagonist has to bathe in salt water and drink copious amounts of salt water (yuck!) to keep from dying now that she’s been transformed.

  3. I loved Lost Voices. And I know there are a lot of upcoming mermaid books for 2012. Zoraida Cordova’s The Vicious Deep is one.

    • Thanks for the tip! I think seeing so many mermaid stories scheduled for 2012 speaks to their still-rising popularity!

  4. Mia Cabana Mia Cabana

    I was obsessed with mermaids when I was little, and it is still the magical creature I would prefer to be– I know a lot of younger girls and teens who feel the same way at my library. I think it maybe has to do with the ability to inhabit a completely different world under the sea that still exists on our planet. It’s so possible to put yourself in that pretend world by just swimming around a certain way in the pool, I think it makes it a very accessible make-believe. But this could just be because I am a water sign who spent much of her summer swimming time age 8-12 “swimming like a mermaid” in every pool I was invited to.

    Also, I still think of long wavy underwater mermaid hair as my personal style ideal :)

    • Mia, I think you’re spot-on with the allure of mermaid stories coming from the mystery of the sea, and how accessible that mystery is just by swimming around. I’m a redhead, so I really identified with Ariel (of Disney’s The Little Mermaid) when I was young, and I’d do the same make-believe, swimming a certain way and letting my hair get all big and flowy around me underwater, pretending I was her. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m 26 and I still do that on occasion!

      • Mia Cabana Mia Cabana

        Yup, me too. In fact, this post led a friend and I to have a good discussion about “mermaid hair” as a genre last night– perhaps best embodied on land by Kate Middleton?

  5. C. Reeder C. Reeder

    Don’t forget Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman. Still very popular with teenage girls at our library.

    • Yes! Aquamarine is another great mermaids-before-mermaids-were-cool story.

  6. Dawn Dawn

    I’m bummed to see Sirena is out of print!

  7. […] There are lots of ways to celebrate March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. You can wear green and pinch those who forgot their festive clothes. Lots of people celebrate by eating cabbage, corned beef, and soda bread. Of course, anything with gold coins or four leaf clovers will be popular for decorations. A new way you can celebrate is by experiencing the rich tradition of Irish folklore found in teen novels. Here is a collection of books that drew their influence from Irish myths.  The list purposefully avoids myths about mermaids and Sirens because of Gretchen Kolderup’s previous coverage of them in “Fintastic: the rise of mermaids and sirens.” […]

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