Mermaid’s Key (Amanda Mahan)

Mermaid’s Key is the first novel in a coming series written by Amanda Mahan.
Finished on: 25.3.2020
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer Giveaway.]

Evan has traveled a lot with his parents and his brother Ross as their parents work as anthropological/archaeological journalists. At the moment they are in Florida. There on the beach, Evan stumbles upon a key that looks very important. When he tells his parents, they want to give it to a colleague for analysis – much to Evan’s chagrin, who always feels at odds with his level-headed, practical family. But when they get stranded on one of the islands in the Florida Keys during a storm and Evan stumbles upon Maera, a softly bioluminiscent, telepathic and infinitely fascinating girl who knows about the key, Evan knows that he has to do something.

Mermaid’s Key is cute in a way that is definitely aimed at younger audiences. I do enjoy young adult novels, but I felt that I was too much of an adult for this one. It’s flaws may be more easily forgiven by a twelve-year-old, but I couldn’t look past a lot of them.

The book cover showing various sea debris (shells, corals, teeth) on a blue background.

Mermaids are usually girls’ territory, so I thought it was pretty nice that we got a mermaid story that centers on a boy for once. I also enjoyed this take on mermaids, that has nothing to do with half-fish, half-people and is a very novel approach to the well-known creatures. That they live in a matriarchal society is a nice touch, too. The whole “women are just naturally more communicative that’s why mermaids are telepathic” part is (cis-)sexist garbage though.

I did struggle with the execution of it all a little bit. For one, I was a little annoyed by Evan. Half of his inner monologue seems to be “Argh, I’m so angry, why does everybody else have their feelings under control? Argh, I wish I wasn’t so angry. Oh no, I hurt somebody out of my anger. I’m sorry!” It would have been nice if he had another setting.

I also struggled with his instant connection with Maera. The entirety of the novel takes place in like 36 hours, and Maera is in like 24 of those hours and at the end, he is ready to follow her anywhere and he is so in love and his parents are all like “go on, have your adventure with her.” And on the one hand, he is sixteen, the age for instant eternal love, but I just couldn’t bring myself to find it very romantic. And on the other hand, he is sixteen, he is a child, what the hell, parents? This is not the kind of adventure a sixteen-year-old should be having.

Plus, the bad guy is such a laughable caricature, even the characters in the novel comment on how much he seems like a caricature. That lampshading doesn’t make him any more engaging, especially considering there is a decent amount of classism in his characterization.

I’m pretty sure that my twelve-year-old niece would enjoy this, but I’m not sure I would recommend it to her, to be honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not really good either.

Summarizing: Okay.

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