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by A.H. Benjamin

Pub Date: March 7th, 2023
ISBN: 9781733354875
Publisher: Notable Kids Publishing

In Benjamin’s middle-grade chapter book, a young girl finds a wish-granting seashell and is drawn into an underwater adventure.

Eleven-year-old Marissa is vacationing at the beach when she comes across a pulsating, iridescent, talking seashell. It introduces itself as Periwinkle and tricks her into accompanying it underwater to the Sea-Queen’s palace. Marissa is carried there on the back of a dolphin called Delta (She can breathe underwater so long as she keeps hold of Periwinkle). It transpires that the Sea-Queen has been enchanted by a wizard into a comalike state that can only be broken should a “land mortal” find and pick an especially rare ocean flower called the Neptius. Escorted by Periwinkle, Delta, the mermaid Elga, and the curmudgeonly guard fish Tarak, Marissa sets out to save the queen. To succeed in her mission, she will have to evade the clutches of the villainous One-Eyed (a tiger shark) and his band of cutthroat sea creatures and elude Shantaya, the evil nymph who trained the wizard in the first place. The prose is simple but sometimes lacks fluency: “The Lords and Orgons spoke to her kindly and never put her under pressure. Had it been the opposite, she would have refused.” Marissa is largely a cipher, offering little to distinguish her as a protagonist. This may enable readers to project something of their own personalities onto her, but the blandly rendered Marissa’s actions are not especially inspiring. Benjamin affords her little agency, and, while nominally the hero of the story, she mostly just drifts along, carried—both literally and metaphorically—by her companions. Events play out quickly as the plot continuously shifts and leads the heroes into plenty of peril (though nothing too scary). The novel’s strength lies in the depiction of the ocean world and its creatures; the author has a knack for character, and Marissa’s friends and enemies alike sparkle with magic and personality. While the plot is slight, the setting is splendiferous and surely will stoke young imaginations.

An undemanding but fun and diverting adventure for early readers.