A mermaid refuses to enchant a sailor to his death, and after being condemned to live among humans, eventually finds her redemptive purpose in life in this difficult-to-categorize picture book.
Reluctant to lure humans to their deaths—an activity required of mermaids—Mele finds herself banished from her ocean home, legs replacing her fish tail, after she rescues a sailor from his watery grave. Her first encounters with humans make the former mermaid wonder whether Kilgore, king of the Merfolk, was right “that all humans were evil and deserved to drown to death.” Then a kindly dressmaker takes Mele in, makes her an entire wardrobe, teaches her to cook and clean, adopts her and takes her on as dressmaking apprentice. Mele inherits the dressmaking shop after her adoptive mother’s death and after falling in love and marrying Jonah the fisherman. But in this morality tale, at odds with its picture book format, the author has something other than a happily-ever-after fairy tale in mind. Jonah drowns at sea because a “mermaid that day had serenaded the crew of the ship, crashing it and killing everyone onboard, including her poor husband.” (As part of King Kilgore’s punishment for her, Mele is “unable to warn anybody about the mermaids who enchant the sailors to their doom.”) When she puts aside her grief, Mele thinks about how she and her husband were unable to have children and how her adoptive mother so graciously took her in. Mele’s new mission: to find other mermaids who “didn’t want to sing sailors to their death” and let them know that there is good in the world. Mele’s journey, infused with a tone of compassion, is clear. The book’s target audience is less well-defined: The colorful, awkwardly one-dimensional drawings are deliberately rendered as if by a grade-schooler, while the language and themes of guilt and redemption skew considerably older.
It’s unclear what audience will appreciate this tale of a mermaid on land finding new life, love and loss.