1. The Characters
From page one, I fell in love with Lena, Kai, Pem, Cole and all the rest. They all feel so real, like people I might have gone to high school with myself. People I might be friends with. And okay, I confess, Kai is so adorable I got a little crush on him, myself. The characters are complex and multi-faceted. They have depth, and I wanted to get to know each one of them better; it’s part of what kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed spending time with them — and I would spend more with them in a heartbeat. (Hint, hint, Lisa … sequel!!)
2. The Setting
Mermaid’s Mirror takes place in a fictional town on the Northern California coast near San Francisco. Having grown up in the Bay Area, this is an area I’m familiar with — and Madigan’s descriptions really bring this locale to life. I could feel the cold, salty air … the grainy sand beneath my toes … the biting chill of the ocean water … the wind that blows in off the sea. In my mind, Madigan’s descriptions conjured up cities I visited frequently growing up: Monterey, Santa Cruz, Carmel, Point Lobos, Pacifica. The setting comes alive and makes you feel like you’re part of the story in a very all-encompassing way.
3. The Mermaids
True story: my favorite Disney princess movie has and likely always will be “The Little Mermaid.” The kindest compliment I was ever paid came from a four-year-old, who once told me I had “Ariel hair.” And I’m still a sucker every time “Splash” comes on TV. Yes, it’s true. I love mermaids. So it was a personal delight to see mermaids tied into a truly wonderful Young Adult book — especially one written as well as this one is (Madigan is ridiculously talented; I love her prose!)
The real magic for me in Mermaid’s Mirror is the contrast between the two worlds: the human world and the mermaid world, and the way they come together at the very end. There’s a very wonderful transition as Lena starts to discover this other realm — filled with secrets, magical objects, and family truths. And then there is a jarring leap headfirst into the mermaid world. The contrast is stark and shocking, until you realize it’s deliberate. The two worlds are shockingly different, and the vast changes that happen to Lena and in the narrative are due to these differences.
And then, in Madigan’s own clever way, the two worlds come back together again. There’s a unity and a harmony by the conclusion that is utterly satisfying.
The Mermaid’s Mirror is not your traditional YA book. But Madigan magically weaves together elements of fantasy and coming-of-age to create something wholly unique. I’ve loved both of Madigan’s novels (this, and Flash Burnout) and I can’t wait to see what she brings us next!