“Wild things ought to be free. They can’t belong to anyone, not really.”
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Amelia, the mermaid who fell in love with a fisherman, wants the freedom she yearned for when she swam in the sea long ago. Her opportunity comes when a man P. T. Barnum offers her money in exchange for showing her as a side show attraction in his museum. What follows is Amelia’s struggle to be treated not as a object but as a real person.
The Mermaid tackles some serious issues that we still see happening in our world today. While this story was set in the 1840’s, it not only shows the way of thinking for that time, it also communicates that things like sexism, racism, and viewing a person as an object are still relevant in today’s age sadly.
As a main character, Amelia was a little bit lacking in the first parts of the book. It took a little long for her character to really start developing. The one thing that could absolutely be said for her in that first half is that she was no damsel in distress. Even when she first arrives in New York, there is no scene where the small town village girl gets swindled by everyone and must be protected and steered a certain way. She shows up knowing exactly what she wants and that is what she demands.
All that Amelia wants is the freedom to explore the world. Ironically, in order to do that she unknowingly puts herself into a “cage” to earn it. She does this because although she lived with Jack, the fisherman, for decades she always kept herself apart from other humans. So when she signs on to work for Barnum she cannot conceive that her body will not be her own in the eyes of those who view her.
Not only does Barnum treat her like an object that exists solely to sell more tickets to the museum and thus make him more money but the audiences does as well. When they shove their faces against the glass or the reporters following her every where she goes. To them she is a thing to marvel at regardless how she might feel about her privacy.
Barnum is also an interesting character. He is about making money, but not just any money. He wants money that he earned by swindling people to his museum. He is very prideful and selfish. Yet while this man is to be loathed and hated, you can still sympathize with him to an extent. Is he a product of his upbringing or is he just going as the world lets him be? Whichever it maybe, he views not only Amelia, but his wife and kids as his and they must bend at the knee or what are they good for?
The last character to focus on is Levi. He is a lawyer for Barnum and falls for Amelia from the first time he met her. Levi is arguably worse than Barnum. He argues with Barnum to get benefits for Amelia, and consistently talks about how terrible Barnum is. Yet he never leaves. He doesn’t tell Amelia to leave even once she has had enough and just wants to be left alone. He knows what terrible things Barnum does and says yet he stays and works around Barnum’s “quirks”. Who is worse: the evil man or the man who knows evil and does nothing to stop it?
While the first half is slow to start and the end wraps up a little too quickly, The Mermaid is a thought provoking and interesting look into objectifying other people and being neutral in a bad situation. From the two that we have read, Lost Boy and The Mermaid, Christina Henry has delighted us with her dark tales and fearful adaptations.
I think I most connected to Levi’s story. He made me the most upset due to his standoffishness (that is totally a word). Think of it this way, you have a friend who you know will be abused mentally by someone else. You still introduce that person and work with them while they are still being treated horribly by the asshole! Levi rolls his eyes and just says, “That is the way Barnum is.” He represents all the people in the world who stand by while something wrong is going on, simply so they don’t disturb the status quo.
I did enjoy The Mermaid because it made me think. I enjoy my Dragons and Magic and fighting, but this book got me thinking and making sure I am not standing by in anything in my life.
My only issue with this story was some of the pacing. Like we mentioned, the first half was slow and then it picked up a breakneck speed that sucked me into the story. Then the ending felt kind of abrupt, like the story needed to be ended and so the story was rushed to get to where it needed to go.
Overall I am seriously impressed with Christina Henry’s ability to weave complex topics into such engaging and fantastic stories. This is the second book of Henry’s that I have read and am now convinced that I need to go back and read more of her past work.