Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith
Black Dog Books, 2010. ISBN 9781742031361.
Sitting on the bottom of the sea, surrounded by the kelp forests, past the shelf of the beach near where she lives, Neen sees another face amongst the swaying tendrils of seaweed. She is not alarmed, for this is the place she feels most at peace, her refuge from the unanswered questions of the world above, a world where she is an orphan. Her father died at sea when she was a babe and her mother disappeared 12 months later, some say, returning to the sea from whence she came.
The opening sequences draw the reader in, the switch and sway of the seaweed almost mesmerizing as the reader ponders the girl's situation in life. Her unsympathetic aunt draws our censure as Neen tries hard to be of use to this bitter woman, but is sent off to do the most difficult of tasks to keep them alive. Her one friend is the blind musician, Scully, who appears to know more than he lets on, seemingly giving Neen information through stories about the past. But it is her aunt's story that shakes her to her foundations, told when a stranger is rescued from the sea, half drowned and talking of a mermaid saving him.
The stories ebb and flow like the tide, giving explanations for what has happened in the past, giving authority to people's lives, but it is when Neen finds her mother's bones deep in a cave beneath the tide line that she wonders about the stories she has been told, and where her story may lie. This gentle story of Neen's coming of age will have readers following the story with delight as they ponder the truth. For Neen the truth is the story she eventually tells of her mother's life, one that she can retell easily: a story separate from those she has been told. The stories that make up people's lives are slippery and changeable, just as is Neen's mother's story and Braxton-Smith has eloquently shown how stories can alter according to circumstances. Lower secondary girls in particular will adore this imaginative tale and think long about the stories of their own lives.