Auntie Ushag said I wasn’t fit to be around. She said it was beyond her how a body could be so prickly and dark. She said it gave her the Screaming Purples just to look at me, always lying about looking sideways at her like a reptile on a hot rock. That if I couldn’t raise myself on my hind legs and help, the least I could do was Go Away and leave her to it.
Honour Bright, all I said was I wished she’d open her mind a bit and that she didn’t know all about everything. I said she couldn’t prove that our Marrey great-grandmother wasn’t a merrow. she couldn’t swear that Mam had run away after Pa drowned, now could she? All I said was perhaps Mam had actually just gone home to her people under the sea, and that she could come back to us one day, if she wanted to. I only said it was possible.
Neen is growing up in a remote part of a small island, surrounded by ocean and the myths the sea generates. Neen’s father died near her birth, and her mother disappeared about a year later. Neen has been raised by her aunt, Ushag, her mother’s younger sister. They struggle to survive and there’s little Ushag finds joyful. Neen is endlessly curious, about life in general and about her mother in particular. Stories from the town come via Ma, a neighbour and her blind fiddle-playing son, Scully. There has long been talk that the Marreys have merrow (mermaid) blood. The more Neen thinks about it, and the more she explores the shores, the more she is sure that her mother is still alive. Neen is convinced that her mother has returned to her home under the sea, to be with her husband, Neen’s father. Nothing Ushag says will convince her otherwise.
At once ancient and modern, Neen’s is a search for identity. Most teens reach a point when they begin their future by seeking to understand their past. For most that’s a matter of asking the questions. But when the answers are not available, or buried in mystery, it’s more complicated. Neen has no ability to see beyond her aunt’s gruffness or reticence. She can only believe what she wants to believe. Time and the truth bring her to understanding slowly and she discovers that nothing is as simple as it seems, nor as complex. Neen tells her story in first person, and the reader shares her thoughts and frustrations as well as the limitations her youth and experience impose. The power, turmoil, and the secrets of the sea provide a rich backdrop to Neen’s growing maturity. Revel too in the stories of the merrows themselves. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.
Merrow, Ananda Braxton-Smith
Black Dog Books 2010
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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