I finished reading this shortly before hearing the news that Lisa had passed. It put the whole book in a new light for me.
What first seemed to be a tale of a girl who longed to experience the ocean more fully by riding the waves she was so drawn to, turned out to be a tale of love, loss, and how life must, and indeed does, go on.
Lena's life, which seemed so simple as the story opened, became immensely more complex as the story unraveled; and even though there was a significant dose of fantasy to the plot, it was always somehow believable. Life is messy and complex and unexpected, and Lena's life was no exception. The only difference was that her issues were far more fantastic than the average person. Every time I felt that I had a handle on her situation, it would change. I never fully felt that I had the ending pegged down in my mind, and I was very surprised with the conclusion to this story. I don't think some people would appreciate the way that Madigan chose to end it, but, to me, it was perfect in it's realistic unperfection. A bit bittersweet, more bitter for some than others, but I enjoyed it in that it gave the story a chance to live on in my mind. Lena's life wasn't tied up in a perfect little bow, and I liked that because it was real. A real-life fantasy.
The underwater world of the mer-folk was original, enveloping, and just fun to read about. I've never read a book that was based, in any part, underwater, and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing this setting through Madigan's mind's eye. Not once did I think of The Little Mermaid while I was reading this1. In fact, this book, which could have fallen into any number of the traps set by the cunning Cliche, managed to, not only dodge them all, but outwit them so completely that once I began reading I never even thought of them. It could've turned out to be a rather cheesy homage to the surf culture or a sparkly Lisa Frank mermaid story, but it wasn't, and I am so glad, because if had been, I don't think I would've been able to bear reading it.
Back to the story. Lena struggles more and more throughout the story to find where she belongs, never feeling that she fully belongs in one place or the other, but the thing that gives her a sense of belonging is love. She loves her dad, mom, and little brother2, but she also finds a profound love in and of the world of the mer-folk. In the end, she must make the unthinkable decision. No matter what, someone will wind up heartbroken, including herself, but she has to choose. Sea or land? And which side of her heart should she follow? As I said, bittersweet. And not everyone will be pleased with the ending, but it really does give the story a chance to develop further in your mind. There's a million what if's, and I can't help but return to them again and again and wonder where the story would've gone, and where it still can go in the endless sea of my imagination.
I could say more, but...
The Mermaid's Mirror gets...
I could pick a million things as my favorite part of this book--the beautiful scenery, the realistic and relatable characters, the fact that this was a completely clean read, the flawless mix of fantasy and reality--but my favorite part of this story was by far the letter to Lena. It was very moving, given the circumstances. I flipped back to it a few times after having finished and just read it slowly, taking in the fact that Lisa must have called on her own life experiences to write it. My heart and prayers go out to the Madigan family. Words fall short.
1. Except, of course, for when it was actually mentioned by name.
2. Who was, by the way, the cutest! I loved how sweet he was and the relationship that Lena had with him, they were very close. My favorite part was when Cole, who's 6YO, would order a group hug and everyone, no matter what, would come together and embrace. It might seem corny, but it wasn't in context.