Actually, all I really wanted to think about was the silkiness of the water as I sliced through it—before everything went wrong. I could still hear its silence pulling me, playing with me as though we shared a secret. But every time I started to lose myself to the feeling of its creamy warmth on my skin, Mandy’s face broke into the picture, glaring at me.
A couple of times, I almost fell asleep. Then I suddenly would wake up after drifting into panicky half-dreams—of me inside a huge tank, the class all around me. They were pointing, staring, chanting: “Freak! Freak!”
I could never go into the water again!
But the questions wouldn’t leave me alone. What had happened to me in there? Would it happen again?
Author: Liz Kessler
From Goodreads: For as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Emily Windsnap has lived on a boat. And, oddly enough, for just as long, her mother has seemed anxious to keep her away from the water. But when Mom finally agrees to let her take swimming lessons, Emily makes a startling discovery—about her own identity, the mysterious father she's never met, and the thrilling possibilities and perils shimmering deep below the water's surface. With a sure sense of suspense and richly imaginative details, first-time author Liz Kessler lures us into a glorious undersea world where mermaids study shipwrecks at school and Neptune rules with an iron trident—an enchanting fantasy about family secrets, loyal friendship, and the convention-defying power of love.
Notes: As I believe I mentioned recently, I’m on something of a quest for an intelligent, well-written, captivating mermaid novel. Yes, this is probably absurd, but I've retained something of my childhood fascination with undersea life. I’ve yet to find the mythical object, though The Tail of Emily Windsnap was the best shell I've turned over so far.
Part of its success is its target age range. A middle grade story doesn’t have to make the scientific sense that even a young adult novel generally must, and from A Wrinkle in Time through The Giver, middle grade novels have often left the screws loose on their internal logic. In the case of Emily Windsnap, any reader with a remotely adult mind will find themselves thinking, “A bird may love a fish, but how would they conceive a daughter?” and this will go on niggling right through the suspiciously simplistic arguments at the climax about “being punished merely for loving.”
Be that as it may, Emily Windsnap is at least a well constructed story with an enthusiastic, likable young voice and amusing characters. For the reader at the right age, Emily should offer a quick, pleasant, relatable read; most middle schoolers can sympathize with her fear of being called a freak, and many a young girl dreams of being a mermaid. I did, and chances are I’d have loved this story at about age seven.
As it is, I enjoyed it well enough. Mermaid books nearly always seem to fail in the worldbuilding department, but Kessler kept up an appealing, if sometimes cutesy, depiction of underwater life. The little bits of wordplay were fun, and creepy Mr. Beeston, hilarious Mystic Millie, and loyal, lovable Shona kept the story lively and interesting.
Unlike A Wrinkle in Time and The Giver, however, Emily Windsnap does not have the depth to transcend its age category—but I can hardly reproach it much for that. It succeeds perfectly well at what it was designed to do. It’s a quirky, easygoing little story for the very young. As such, it's one of the stronger mermaid offerings available.