Book Review: The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

Book: The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

Published July 2019 by Scholastic Press|336 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: None

Genre: YA Fantasy

A dark and beautiful reimagining of The Little Mermaid.

Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans in the UK. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

I really liked The Surface Breaks!  I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s definitely darker than I thought it would be.

I’m not too familiar with the original fairy tale but this re-telling feels a lot closer to that than the Disney movie we all know and love.  There is no happily ever after for Gaia- there’s a lot of heartbreak and vengeance and learning to find your voice, even when you’re no longer able to speak.

Gaia sacrificed a lot to give up her tail and voice, and she definitely didn’t have a great father.  Throughout the whole book, we see what’s expected of Gaia and her sisters.  They have really high standards they need to live up to, and they are expected to be obedient and quiet and to not stray from that.  Eventually, they do seem to break free- Gaia especially but it took a lot for that to happen.

The society Gaia lives in is very patriarchal- women are expected to look and act a certain way, they only exist for men’s pleasure…we see Gaia and her sisters suffer in this society and though Gaia doesn’t fight it until the very end of the book, we also see her journey to get to that point.  I really liked seeing her journey and decide to forge her own path instead of the one that her father set for her.

The ending was pretty rushed in my opinion, and I thought there were a lot of possibilities for change.  There is part of me that really wants a sequel to see how much things change.  At the same time, though, it is a little bit fun to picture the changes myself.  Still, there’s a lot going on at the end, and it felt like things had to come together really fast.

I liked Gaia and she definitely was not interchangeable with her sisters.  That actually really stood out to me, and it seemed like all of her sisters were meant to show that they all had the same train of thought.  They all seemed the same but this is a book where they were supposed to be like that.

All of the men- both human and not- were all terrible.  It would have been to nice to see one guy who wasn’t horrible but that was not in the cards for this book.  I know O’Neill is trying to make a point, and we definitely got it but…I still wanted one good guy.

The sea witch, Ceto, was pretty awesome.  If I had to pick a favorite character, she is definitely it.  She is not the villain I thought she would be, and I’m glad we had such a great character in her.

4 stars.  I really liked The Surface Breaks, though there were some things I didn’t like.

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