Title: Merrow (Secrets of Carrick)
Author: Ananda Braxton-Smith
Publication date: November 8th 2016 (Originally printed January 1st 2010)
Publisher: Candlewick Press (Originally printed by Black Dog Books)
Number of pages: 240
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Mythology
In this breathless and beautifully crafted tale, twelve-year-old Neen Marrey must separate town gossip from town lore to learn the truth about her mother—and herself.
The people of Carrick Island have been whispering behind Neen’s back ever since her father drowned and her mother disappeared. The townspeople say her mother was a merrow and has returned to the ocean. Neen, caught in her hazy new in-between self—not a child, but not quite grown up—can’t help but wonder if the villagers are right. But if her mother was a merrow, then what does that make Neen?
I adored this novel. The story was beautifully crafted with poetic language and rich with Irish lore. It has a realness of a young girl coming to senses with the differences between truth and fairy tale, even if the truth is hard to believe.
Neen is a 12-year-old who lives with her Aunt Ushag, the sister of her mother who disappeared when Neen was a toddler. Neen’s father drowned in the ocean, and the rumor around town is that Neen’s mother was a merrow and she was the one who drowned him. Neen has grown up believing that her mother was a mermaid, which can be believable because Neen herself has “the scale,” or flaky areas of her skin that resemble scales on a fish. Neen spends the novel attempting to prove to Ushag and herself that her mother is actually alive and living under the waves, calling for her to come home.
Let me just say I loved every character. Each was unique and played a part in the story, either to fuel the fire to Neen’s curiosity or bring her back down to earth. Ushag’s pain was real and the struggle between her and her feelings about her dead sister were heartbreaking. I also particularly fell in love with Scully, a blind fiddle player who relays tales of the Otherworld to Neen. Though he is more of a secondary character, his character arch is solid and well thought out. (Plus, the idea of having a character be blind in the physical world but being able to “see” the magical realm is such an interesting concept to me, and I’m still gushing over it.)
The only issue I kept running into was the mass amount of info-dumping, which came with the storytelling. In a way, I don’t suppose that could be helped, but I kept sighing whenever I saw another page full of bulky paragraphs I had to read. Also, as a bit of a disclaimer, there are no actual mermaids in this novel. Only legends and dreams.
The author must know a lot about Irish culture and beliefs. Merrow borders on the fantastical while keeping a hold on reality that will make readers sigh and wish they were on the British Isles.