These days, tales of mermaids in young adult fiction are a far cry from The Little Mermaid. Mermaids are more like monsters than princesses, and their stories are some of the most violent and graphic in the teen genre. Nevertheless, it’s clear readers love them, because the wave of mermaid YA shows no signs of slowing.
However, I’ve noticed a slight transition in the sea creature trend, and it might give mermaids a run (swim) for their money—the selkie. Based in Scottish and Irish folklore, selkies appear as seals in water but can also take human form. In some myths, if you hide the selkie’s seal skin, it belongs to you and cannot return to seal form.
So as we head into 2013, I’m wondering who will win in this throwdown: Mermaids vs. Selkies.
Below, the contenders.
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Mythology and 19th-century Puritan values collide in this seriously creepy mermaid novel. In 1872, a mermaid named Syrenka falls in love with a naturalist and trades her tail for life on land—a decision that reverberates over a century later. In present day, 17-year-old Hester meets a beautiful stranger who leads her on a journey to find her connection to Syrenka and the history behind her family’s curse. Read our review.
Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
This re-imagined Little Mermaid introduces Lo, a creature of the sea who still clings to her remaining human life. But in order to be human again, she must convince a boy to love her—and then steal his soul.
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Rudy and his family move to a remote island to save his sick younger brother—an island where the fish have strange healing properties. He spots a merman (well, merboy) off the coast, learns that the fish-kid’s name is Teeth and discovers that Teeth has creepy, violent secrets. Look for it in January.
Plus, a few others: Wrecked by Anna Davies, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, Sarah Porter’s Lost Voices series and Tera Lynn Childs’ Fins series.
Mermaid stories have the numbers on their side, as the above list is only a fraction of the total. But this September, a selkie tale became one of the best teen books of the year:
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
In this dazzling book (our Children’s Top Pick for September), all of the women on Rollrock are seal-women. The witch Misskaella uses her connections with the seals to introduce the men to seal-women. There are few YA books—whether about selkies, mermaids or something else—that better capture the sea than this one from Printz Honor-winning Lanagan. Read our review.
And a quick peek into the children’s books coming out in 2013 proved that the selkie myth is no one-hit wonder—and I predict I’ll stumble across a few more before its June pub date:
Tides by Betsy Cornwell
This debut from Cornwell tells the story of high school senior Noah and his adopted teenage sister, Lo (probably not the same Lo from Fathomless . . .). Noah tries to save a girl from drowning, and she probably turns out to be a seal-woman, or something like that.
Okay, readers: How do you feel about the new nature of mermaids in teen lit? And in the battle of selkie vs. mermaid, which sea creature wins? What makes the better YA novel?