The Mermaid Summer by Mollie Hunter
Everyone knows that nothing displeases the mermaids that haunt the Drongs (a stone formation off the coast of the village) more than humans who ignore their hold over the seas, but Eric Anderson, a jovial fisherman with little regard for the legendary creatures of the sea disregards the power of the mermaids, he finds that his self-assurance leads him into a whirlpool of trouble. When an enchantingly beautiful but deadly mermaid lures his fishing fleet into the dangerous waters that surround the pointed Drongs, Eric Anderson is certain the end has come. When his life and that of his companions is spared, Eric’s shame at bringing the mermaid’s curse upon his men and their families forces him to leave the village and take the curse upon himself, but Eric’s granddaughter, Anna refuses to believe that her Granda Eric will never return.
When Eric begins to send his family gifts from the many lands he journeyed to, his family is pleased, but worried. For his grandchildren, he selects gifts are more meaningful than he suspects: a conch shell and knife for Jon; a jade comb, a silver mirror, and a multi-hued fabric that shines with all the colors of the sea for Anna. Do these gifts have the power to break the mermaid’s curse? And will Anna and Jon be brave enough to use them?
For years, I remembered reading a book about a mermaid when I was in 5th grade, but I never could recall the title. This was in 1995, that’s a long time to remember a book. Thanks to a LibraryThing tag search, I was finally able to track down the book–it was The Mermaid Summer by Mollie Hunter, the image of the book’s cover on LT had the same haunting mermaid that caught my eye when I was a tween. I didn’t actually finish The Mermaid Summer that time; I remember that I checked it out during the last few weeks of the school year and had to return it to the school library before I could read it through because classes were ending and I would be moving on to middle school after the summer holidays. I never found it again after that because neither my city nor my school library had a copy; eventually, I gave up on ever finding it–I had so little to go on except that it was a mermaid book with an interesting cover. I was so thrilled to finally track it down after so long!
The novel reads like a sea legend; the tale of a vengeful mermaid and a pair of cunning children in a Scottish fishing village. The mermaid is portrayed as a dark and powerful creature, in the tradition of the Sirens, her song allowing her to charm and destroy those who dare deny her. It’s an interesting, fairy-tale like tale, but the feminist in me had some trouble with the portrayal of women(girls) as vain, flighty, and impulsive. It is clear that this is Anna’s story; her actions are the ones that drive the story to its end, but these are depicted as unwise choices resulting from a foolish, stubborn girl’s curiosity. The mermaid, while a powerful creature, is nevertheless portrayed as a vain and self-centered girl, her actions arising as a result of her desire to be revered and exalted as the most awe-inspiring mermaid. The story almost carries the caveat so often associated with the old tales of seafaring men–“Ay, keep yer women-folk off yer boats and out of the seas. Nothing but trouble do they bring.”
However, I can now understand why I was so fascinated by this story when I was a kid; there weren’t that many children’s books that featured dark fantasy. Most mermaid books were of the Ariel variety–lovelorn girl wants to become a human. The Mermaid Summer is definitely not about a sweet, lovelorn mermaid who likes to sing. She’s cruel and takes pleasure in riddles; while Jon and Anna are no innocent children swayed by the magic of a beautiful mermaid.