By Julia langbein
There is no limit on the number of mermaid food recipes you can find online. When I host book club, however, I’m usually tired from work and ready to relax with my friends. So, set those complicated mermaid birthday party ideas aside and try these easy clamshell cookies. Made with Nilla wafers, buttercream, and sixlets, they’re the perfect snack for discussing Julia Langbein’s new book, American Mermaid. Click here to view the recipe from MomDot.
***Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday Books for providing a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. ***
It’s rare to see representation of people who are disabled in contemporary fiction. As a result, I was immediately attracted to Julia Langbein’s new book, American Mermaid.
Langbein introduces us to a young English teacher, Penelope, who is on the cusp of Hollywood stardom. She is the author of American Mermaid, a book that exploded onto the scene after a prominent Instagram influencer promoted it. Just to clarify in case you are confused, the title of Langbein’s real book is the same as the title of the character’s fictional book. Still with me? Good. Once the attention began, Penelope’s life changed. She sold her book to a movie studio and moved to Los Angeles to help pen the script with two of the studio’s writers, Murphy and Randy. While she was at a party one night, a riptide almost caused Penelope to drown. From that moment on, Penelope begins wondering if her fictional world is bleeding into her real life when weird additions start showing up in the script.
As Penelope’s story is unfolding, the reader gets a glimpse into her book. Excerpts from American Mermaidintroduce us to the main character, Sylvia. Sylvia is a disabled woman who was adopted by rich parents, Dean and Eleanor Granger. Sylvia is in constant pain and has received treatment from her doctor, Masahiro, for her whole life. She is very close to him, so she falls into a deep depression when she finds out that he suddenly passed away. Overcome with grief and the pain from her legs, she decides to commit suicide by throwing herself into a bay. As soon as her legs hit the water, however, they transform into a mermaid tail. Free from pain, Sylvia feels her newfound power until she swims back to shore. Her tail transforms back into her non-operational legs, and people surround her and call an ambulance.
This is when the book became a bit ridiculous. Sylvia obviously has questions about what has happened to her. Who shows up to rescue her from the hospital other than Masahiro himself? It turns out that he faked his death to save himself from Sylvia’s father. Dean and Eleanor discovered Sylvia as a little mermaid baby and decided to pay Masahiro to cut off her tail in favor of legs. Masahiro was blackmailed into obeying, but made the surgery reversible. Sylvia’s legs will turn into a tail whenever they are submerged.
Dean, Sylvia’s father, is the villain of the story. Upon learning that mermaids exist, he decided that he wanted to bring on apocalyptic climate change effects by fracking on the ocean floor. He plans to enslave the mermaids and make them drill. When ocean levels rise and people die out, Dean and his company will be there to sell goods and services to the survivors. It’s now up to Masahiro and Sylvia to stop him.
If this story sounds a little weird, that’s because it is. It’s quirky and definitely unique when compared to other books on the market. Because it’s so different, I really, really wanted to like it. But, I found Penelope insufferable and Sylvia’s story a bit boring. There were SO many options for how Penelope’s story could have ended, but I felt like the one that was chosen was very unsatisfying. Where was the magic? Where was the whimsy? Where was the connection between Penny and Sylvia? I wish with all my heart that Penelope’s story would have ventured into magical realism. Instead, the author seemed to be trying to make every aspect of the ending unpalatable. I closed the book feeling disappointed in the characters and their decisions. Most of all, I’m disappointed that I can’t give this book about mermaids that features both female empowerment and representation of the disabled community a five-star rating.
American Mermaid might be for you if you are looking for something truly different. Those of us who read a lot find that some books start to sound the same (I’m looking at you, thrillers). American Mermaid will get you out of that rut, and the cover art is truly beautiful. However, it will not be a contender for one of my top books of the year.
My Rating System Explained 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it. It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective. My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was a really good book. Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation. There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I liked this book. It allowed me to escape from reality for a while. While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs. 2 Stars ⭐️⭐️: There's something about this book that I didn't like. I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it. I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people. I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs. 1 Star ⭐️: My rarest rating. I really didn't like this book. Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book. Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.