Thu, December 22, 2005
Beth Mayall? It should be BEST Mayall!!
Mermaid Park tells the story of Amy, a 16-year-old girl from Philadelphia who visits the Jersey shore with her family on a summer trip and decides to stay for the season and work at Mermaid Park, a local fantasy attraction where young women in mermaid gear put on an underwater show. Like Baby in Dirty Dancing, Amy grows up on vacation, and learns a few things about herself and about life. Clearly targeted at readers in Amy's demographic, Mermaid Park is nonetheless a delightful read for all ages.
The book is an engaging and fast-paced read, filled with vivid details about Amy's life, her thoughts, her family, and the town of Wildwood, where she spends her summer. While no young girl's summer at the beach would be complete without romance, Amy's story doesn't center around her encounters with boys – which makes for a more fulfilling read (and a positive message for girls who might be reading the book). Amy's true love is Mermaid Park, and author Beth Mayall does a spectacular job of infecting the reader with the same fascination Amy has for her newfound sanctuary. The park is a major character in the book, and its wonder and mystique kept me churning through the pages of the first half, always wanting to get back to Mermaid Park and discover what else it had in store for Amy.
I don't read a lot of books in the young adult genre these days, but from what I remember, Mayall really separates herself from the pack by filling Mermaid Park with real people. It's not a dreamy, bubble gum story about laying out in the sun and chatting with girlfriends – Amy struggles with real problems, and every character in the book, from starring roles to featured players to extras, comes from someplace real. Part of what Amy learns over the summer is that life is not a fantasy – that she and others have flaws, and life is about embracing those flaws rather than eradicating them.
Most of all, Amy is a genuinely engaging character, and the pages turned easily because I couldn't wait to see what would happen to her next, and how she'd react. So much about Mermaid Park is not what it seems, and the story's twists and new directions kept opening up more curiosity – propelling me deeper into the story. As hard as it was for me to put Mermaid Park down, I'm sure anyone in its target age group will positively love it.