This vivid and colourfully descriptive book goes straight into full-scale fantastical with very little warning. Telling the tale of Benji, a thirteen-year-old boy who finds out he is, in fact, a mermaid/man, it seems two-parts children’s book to one-part grown-up. Personally, I feel it is much better in its mature moments, because the story, once it starts to form, is a pretty good one – and an important one at that.
Wu is clearly passionate about the life in our oceans, and the message is a harsh, moral one. Yet, sadly, for the most part, this becomes incidental – lost in all the detail, of which there is a huge amount. For the first third, as Benji becomes accustomed to his undersea world, it feels somewhat like a Pixar movie, with bright colours and talking animals. As the villainous Gouguon develops, however, the book moves toward an adventure-packed, dramatic concept – one much more suited to an older audience, and the author’s voices couldn’t be any more different. With Gouguon so strongly anti-human, for all their disrespect and damage of the world, this is where it is at its best; by far, my favourite aspect of this book is the interaction with and in the human world, rather than the cartoonish feel of “Aquari”. With such an important message, and such a ruthless adversary, one particular scene about two-thirds of the way through the book (in which Gouguon sacks an oil rig) really elevates “Mermaids are Real” to grand potential, promising to fully enter the genre of epic-scale showdown fantasy, “Planet of the Apes” or “Narnia”-style. Sadly, though, it doesn’t deliver this, and the mature aspect of the book is short-lived in comparison to the rest. I would have liked to have seen a great deal more made of this ecological message and the war brewing beneath it, and much less banter between the underwater characters. When the tale unfolds, it is a long time coming, and in too small a relative ratio.
I feel “Mermaids are Real” provides far too much detail, in its monologue and its dialogue, most of which is unnecessary and distracting – in fact, for much of the book I didn’t really know what was going on, because the small points were just coming at me too fast, and too many words were being spoken by the characters, to the extent where perhaps I was even missing the big points. Bo is a good author, and knows how to craft a book, but in honesty it could comfortably shed a quarter of its peripheral content and be better for it. There are quite a few errors in the proof - particularly regarding typos and, more specifically, commas – which Bo would be well advised to address.
I think, primarily, though, this book could be fantastic, and has all the elements of a classic; I feel that it needs to take itself a little more seriously, because its message is about as serious as one gets. It seems to be aimed at two different audiences, and I think Bo needs to decide whether this is a children’s book or a more serious one; I know which direction I think it should go.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: bo-wu mermaids environmental ecological marine-life undersea fantasy atlantis fiction