by Adrianna Stepiano

[xyz_lbx_custom_shortcode id=4]As part of the research for my great and probably never-to-be-published novel, this reviewer has become quite a connoisseur of mer-folk fiction. There has been a tidal wave of  this theme in Young Adult Fiction over the past year or two and a notable uptick in such books for adults. So far, I have tended to favour the former as most of the latter often seem to be a rather thin story line wrapped around a bumper serving of soft – and not-so-soft – porn. This reviewer has nothing against Adult themes but most of the time, they can get in the way of what could be a good story.

The Young Adult version of the mer-folk genre is often based on a young adult female suddenly discovering that she is a mermaid. (So far, I have seen few – if any – story lines where this happens to a young adult male.) This momentous event usually happens to girls who have been repeatedly warned by parents – living or dead – to stay out of the water. Not only is there this profound change in life-style, but the heroine discovers that she has special abilities (aside from being able to live under water), is a princess, a future queen, a savior of some sort, etc. Finally, she was originally born or goes to live in some sort of mystical, magical, mermaid-land under the sea.

All these are common elements of the genre and a number of them appear in this, the first book of the Memoir of a Mermaid series, but Adrianna Stepiano takes her story in a completely different direction. Seraphin Shedd is one such girl who discovers that things – including herself – are not what they once seemed. On the day of her high school graduation, she is completely alone; Her mother having departed when she was an infant and her father dead in the ocean when she was 10. To further complicate her life, she has blackouts at times of emotional anxiety like when she thinks of her father’s untimely death. On the same day she receives her diploma,  she also receives the key to the family estate, – an ordinary house on an ordinary street in an ordinary neighbourhood next to the sea – meets the somewhat baffling nephew, Joseph, of her biology teacher, and discovers that this very same teacher has suddenly disappeared.

All alone with no family and no college plans, Seraphin obtains a position as a housekeeper through the auspices of a neighbour. This job is at an oceanic research institute on nearby Great Cranberry Island. There, she finds the nephew of her now missing Biology teacher working under an assumed name. He has a friend in the person of a fellow researcher named Perrine Canard and working there as well is an acquaintance from high school named Ethan Cottington. Thus, the cast of central characters is gathered and the story really gets under way.

It is this reviewer’s policy not to include spoilers or plot synopses but rather to give his impression of the book as a whole and comment on some elements of the story. That being said, this book is a real “page-turner” and the plot keeps you guessing. I am always looking for teachable moments in Young Adult Fiction and Ms. Stepiano’s story contains a fair number. At one point or another, Seraphin encounters prejudice and bigotry, bullying and belittling.

One thing that makes this book stand out is that Ms. Stepiano has declined to create a magical undersea mer-kingdom. Instead, she portrays merfolk as ordinary people living ordinary lives and holding down everyday jobs. These are the residents of Seraphin’s neighbourhood who have been watching and protecting her ever since her father died. It is these characters that help give this story a few comic touches and grounding in the in the real, believable world. The heroine is an extraordinary girl doing extraordinary things, loved and supported by her friends and neighbours.

The story contains romance, mystery, danger and heroism. Although the book was aimed at the mid-teen segment of the Young Adult market, it is easily readable and enjoyable by older teens as well as adults. In short, it is fun and exciting.

When, At Last, He Found Me will be followed by When, At Last, She Could See in January of 2013 and this reviewer believes that it will be eagerly anticipated. Aside from Seraphin and Joseph, there is a budding romance between the other two central characters that many readers, including myself, hope will be continued or at least expanded upon in the second book. Indeed, it has the potential to be a novel spun off of the main story.

Adrianna Stepiano has the makings of a real Young Adult classic on her hands and I hope that the next book will be just as good – if not better – as the first.

My Rating:

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