by Pete Tarsi
Some things just keep on getting better. Each of us can probably think of at least one item to which the preceding statement applies. This reviewer submits Pete Tarsi’s Flipping the Scales series is indeed, one of those things and it is wonderfully evidenced by the release of the second book in his series, Skipping the Scales.
It is summer once again in New England and cousins Hailey and Jill, along with best friend Meredith, are now high school graduates with summer jobs. Meredith is an intern at a public aquarium while Jill spends her days as the facility’s costumed mascot. Hailey is working as an entertainer at kids’ birthday parties and loving every minute of it.
On the morning of the summer season’s first full moon, Hailey is up at dawn, hoping that her mermaid friends, Marina and Lorelei, will return for a visit even if it’s just for the day. She has been waiting on the morning of every full moon since the previous summer and it has been a disappointing year.
Once again, she is about to call it quits for the day when she hears her BFF – Best Friend with Fins – call her name. Marina has returned with Lorelei in tow. Rather than a one-day sightseeing trip, Marina has something else in mind.
In the world Mr. Tarsi has created for this series, merfolk have the ability to shuck their tails on the day of the full moon and walk amongst us. Their tails are an iridescent skirt-like garment which once removed, must be carefully hidden near the sea lest it fall into the wrong hands. Without it, they will be stranded on the shore, unable to return to their ocean home.
Now, one summer later, Marina has returned to begin the search for her mother who was apparently lost on land, eighteen years ago. This search will take at least a month and Marina wants Hailey to take care of her tail in the interim. Hailey will, therefore, get to fulfill her dream of dreams; the dream of becoming a real live mermaid, if only for a little while.
Although the Jill and Meredith have pledged to assist the search, their time is taken up with summer jobs. Marina will find that the search for her mother will proceed in fits and starts with dead-ends along the way.
Marina will also discover time and tide wait for no mermaid. The object of her brief summer romance has moved on to someone else. Jill’s brother, Jeff, made this move not because of disloyalty, but simply because he has not heard from Marina since the previous summer. Fear not, gentle reader, their romance is rekindled. It will be all the more interesting to see where Pete Tarsi takes this portion of the plot in future installments.
Although many of us would dearly love to trade in our legs for a tail and spend our lives in the sea, things beneath the waves are not always as nice as they may seem. In fact, there is something one might call ‘tail-ism’. Hailey learns a Mer’s place in life depends upon the colour of their tail. For example, those with green tails serve as scouts for the Mer school. Yellow tails harvest plankton for the school, while blue-tailed Mer are tasked with keeping predators away. The purple-tailed are at the top of the social order and the orange-tailed? They are very few and very far between.
Indeed, there is only one mermaid with an orange tail in the school – Marina. Her tail colour makes her something of a sport in the school. A sport which the school’s tail-ist leader is determined to rid the ocean of. Early in the story, when mer-mad Hailey reveals her costume tail is orange rather than the anticipated pink, it is little wonder that Marina’s eyes fill with tears. She is no longer the only one. Someone wants to be like her.
It would be easy for some to dismiss Marina’s search for her mother as simply a Disney-esque plot device. After all, most Disney heroines have lost at least one parent and in some cases, both parents are missing. In Marina’s case, her quest is heartrending because of the barriers she must overcome. There is, of course, the alien elements of the surface world and its culture. There is so much she has yet to learn and understand, not least of which is the complexity of life above the waves.
Marina is indeed fortunate to have friends like Hailey, Meredith, Jill, and Lorelei. Hailey might argue she herself is the truly fortunate one as she gets to be a mermaid for a month. It is these interactions between the characters which make Pete Tarsi’s story all the more charming.
A Wonderful Story
Simply put, Skipping the Scales is a sweet, smart, and poignant story that should touch the heart of any mermaid enthusiast. Age and/or gender is decidedly not a limiting factor regarding this story. There are those touching moments where the reader can easily feel the character’s sorrow, fear, or joy. When a story can make a reader, who is the diametric of the target audience, feel these things, it is the hallmark of a talented author.
It is little secret that this reviewer often views YA Mer-fiction as a vast wasteland littered with cliché-ridden stories. There are, of course, some novels which make the best of the seemingly inescapable mermaid clichés. Otherwise, this reviewer feels he could easily be like Carnac the Magnificent, holding the novel to his forehead and describing the plot therein.
Nonetheless, there are authors today who can and do deliver something new, something fresh, something exciting. Pete Tarsi is one such author and his ‘Scales’ series is a shining example of what stories in this sub-genre could and should be. This reviewer doffs his cap in respect to Mister Tarsi and his accomplishment. We are not worthy.
 In Biology, people previously used the word “sport” to refer to abnormal specimens. The scientific usage is broader, referring to any organism differing from the type ordinarily found in nature.