February 24, 2013

Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels

by Hélène Boudreau
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
240 pp.
Ages 9+
Release February 2013

The cover of Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels may suggest a grad or a prom but the story only has Jade and Cori entering their first year of high school so no need to jump ahead too far.  While the transition to high school includes the promise of lockers, going for lunch off school grounds and new freedoms, it is often fraught with any number of worries about responsibilities, relationships and expectations.  Couple those with the recent discovery of your mermaid nature, the return of your mother who all thought had drowned and a budding first love, and you'll know what Jade Baxter is experiencing.  Plus she has to pretend that her mother is her aunt, Tanti Natasha, and the mermaid daughter of jailed mer-people Finalin and Medora is her cousin Serena from Tonganesia (explaining her poor English language skills) which recently experienced a volcanic eruption.  Deception can be so imaginative.
"Every student at Tonganesia High brings a dog to school," I continued.  "Dogs are very sensitive to seismic shifts in the earth's crust.  Since Serena's village was at the base of an active volcano, the dogs act as alarms during the students' mile-long walk to school.  Not to mention, protecting everyone from Komodo dragon attacks through the dangerous rain forest." (pg. 24)
But with deception comes the need for secrecy, and secrecy abounds.  Jade learns that their underwater hockey coach Laurena, who is engaged to marry Daniel, head cook at Bridget's Diner, is a Webbed One, as is Bridget.  Like Serena, Luke and Jade's mom Michaela, they are humans who started out as mer.  Unfortunately, the Mermish Council is ordering the Webbed Ones back to the ocean, intending to enforce Tidal Law at the next supermoon (in nine days!), to help fight a revolt that intends to see all Freshies (like Finalin and Medora) freed from the Talisman Lake jail. 

Everything seems to be folly. In fact, it is.  Keeping their Webbed Ones from returning to the ocean becomes lunacy for Jade and her friends and family, as the pull of Tidal Law is impressively strong. There's the upcoming Fall Folly, the dance where the girls ask the boys, made difficult for Jade's second-guessing of her relationship with Luke.  And there Folly's Passage, the narrow channel that once connected the upper end of Talisman Lake to the Atlantic Ocean, and the cause of the legendary shipwreck of Fortune's Folly.  It too may be folly for those mer who aim to reach the ocean without detection by the Mermish Council so they may provide support for the uprising.

But folly can mask wisdom ("If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise" wrote poet William Blake) and the actions of Jade and her cohort in Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels are always grounded in good intentions, even if things do go awry occasionally.  A slip of the tongue, an unexpected reveal of a tail, a misunderstanding.  However, one of the best features of Hélène Boudreau's Real Mermaids books is the weaving together of the multiple and sophisticated subplots into a satisfying and upbeat ending.  We know that life doesn't often have happy endings, but when a book is embedded with mer-people, first-love and the confusion of puberty and transitioning to high school, isn't it refreshing to put aside the expected angst and enjoy the pleasure of a story tied up beautifully in a glittery satin bow of turquoise and pink?

For new readers to Hélène Boudreau's Real Mermaids series, links to reviews of her earlier books and our interview with her are provided here:

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