May: A sweet tale for preteen girls

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA young adult fantasy book reviews Kathryn Lasky Daughters of the Sea HannahMay by Kathryn Lasky

May is the second in Kathryn Lasky’s Daughters of the Sea series, which tells the story of three orphaned sisters, separated as infants, who discover they are mermaids. In the previous book we met Hannah, who found her true nature while working as a maid to a wealthy family. Here we meet the second sister, May, who was adopted by a lighthouse keeper and his manipulative wife. Her parents have kept something from her, and when she is fifteen she works up the courage to learn what it is.

Compared to her sister, May learns her scaly secret much earlier in the story. Readers who were frustrated with the pace of Hannah will probably be pleased with this difference, and May’s curiosity and her process of discovery are compelling. The faster-moving internal journey, though, is juxtaposed with a more limited external journey. May spends much of the novel under her adoptive mother’s thumb and only leaves her hometown in her clandestine swims. I liked the intricate social world of Hannah and missed that here. May doesn’t interact with many people beyond her parents, a few other briefly glimpsed authority figures such as a doctor and a librarian, and her two potential love interests (one bland, the other over-the-top awful). Later, it turns out that May’s story is taking place concurrently with Hannah’s and their paths converge.

One of the best parts, to me, was the glimpse into the larger world of mermaids, shown in a handful of chapters from the point of view of the girls’ long-lost aunt. What we see is really interesting, and I love the way Lasky tied in the Scottish mythology of the Blue Hag.

The Daughters of the Sea books occupy an odd space between middle grade and young adult literature. The coming-of-age/self-discovery and romance themes would seem to place them in the young adult category; but the writing style, and the occasional “teachy” moments I’ve come to expect from Lasky, make the books feel younger. In addition, I think most young adult readers will want more grit. I’d recommend this series to girls right on the border of the two age groups — maybe 11 or so — especially if they enjoy the gentler books for girls that were written in the past. (For example, I think I’d have really liked this during my Anne of Green Gables phase at roughly that age.)

This may sound like a petty gripe, but I found the character nicknames distracting at times. Is it really that common to form a nickname from an unstressed syllable? I was okay with “Zeeba” for Hepzibah, mostly because it reminded me of Zeena from Ethan Frome, on whom Lasky may have partially based this malingering, malignant character. But “Gar” for Edgar threw me for a loop. I spent half the book having no idea why May was calling her father “Gar” and seriously wondered if it was a regional term for “Dad” that was unfamiliar to me before the light finally dawned.

The story, as in Hannah, is left open-ended, and I assume the third book will introduce the final sister and the fourth will be an adventure featuring all three girls and tying up the loose ends. Overall, I didn’t like May quite as much as I did Hannah, though I must admit that the pacing and plotting are better executed here. Recommended for preteen girls looking for a sweet, charming tale.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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