Are you in need of a good trilogy now that you have devoured The Hunger Games and Twilight? Do you yearn for a bit of magic now that the Harry Potter series is well in the rearview? Then Michelle Tea’s new series, “Mermaid in Chelsea Creek,” has got your name written all over it in big, salty letters.
Authors use a lot of sometimes-dopey metaphors for teenagedom, like one book I recall about a teen that become invisible (subtle!), but the magic realism that you find in “Mermaid” is thankfully a good deal smarter than a lot of YA fiction. Sophie Swanowski is a dirty, scruffy, tangle-haired kid in Chelsea, Massachusetts, with only one friend, Ella, with whom she spends time out by the skanky creek playing the pass-out game as a form of escape. (Let’s just take a moment to celebrate having a hero with scraggly hair and no clue about makeup … Okay!) Chelsea is full of old immigrant families who each have their own tales and superstitions about magic in the old world, much like how my grandma believes keeping her lipsticks in the fridge is a form of good luck.
One day though, Sophie hyperventilates herself into a longer sleep than before, and dreams that she is in the creek, breathing underwater, talking to a foul-mouthed mermaid. (Swearing in Boston? Never!) From there, she begins to discover that the people in her life have stories they have kept hidden for a long time, and that she, with her bizarre hunger for salt, might be more important to a world that seems to reject her than she could have imagined.
“Mermaid” is just book number one in this new series, and I tore through it, in love with Tea’s amazingly beautiful writing style. When she talks about how characters can see into other people and sense what they are thinking and feeling, it’s magic, but it also sounds legit. This magic isn’t the hocus pocus of kids books, but a more archaic, no-frills look at how hard it can be to understand your parents, your best friend, the people at your school, and to realize who you *are.* The book is also very funny: Tea notes that you can’t buy a wand for this kind of magic at “some store in the mall”—a wink to Ollivander’s.
If you want to read a really original book with gutsy characters, I strongly, sweary recommend you find this book in a local bookstore, or spirit one to your mailbox through magical internet. You can also maybe see Michelle Tea at a reading if you live in one of these places!
Are you in the market for a good read/do you think you are secretly the chosen one?!