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Daughters of the Sea: May

Review

Daughters of the Sea: May

It's 1898, and 15-year-old May has always felt like a fish out of water. She has grown up the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who drinks a bit too much and his hypochondriac wife. But even though she loves living on the coast of Maine, surrounded by the sea she loves, she has always wondered how she can possibly be related to these people who seem so different from herself. She's miserable, forced to stay home from school to nurse her mother's failing health. And the sea seems to be calling to her more strongly each day, even though she's always been forbidden from even wading in the seawater.

But after her parents let it slip that she's actually adopted, May's lifelong feeling of being separate and disconnected suddenly starts to make sense. And when she disobeys her parents' rules and takes her first moonlit swim in the waters off the coast, she discovers even more about herself. She can swim underwater effortlessly, propelled at amazing speeds by her tail. That's right --- May is a mermaid.

May still has so many questions to answer: Where did she come from? How did her father find her? Are there others like her? Her quest for answers takes her to the local library, where among the books on ocean currents and the science of the sea she meets Hugh, a Harvard astronomer who's researching the Pleiades star formation. Hugh is so unlike the fishermen who flirt with May at town dances, he seems to come from a different world. But then again, so does May. But can their new love withstand May's many secrets and her overwhelming longing to return to her watery origins?

DAUGHTERS OF THE SEA: MAY is the second of a projected series of four novels about mermaid sisters. HANNAH was the first in the quartet, and Hannah does, in fact, appear as an increasingly important character midway through May's story. But MAY can be read on its own merits and enjoyed even by readers who haven't yet learned Hannah's story (although chances are they'll want to go back and pick it up after reading MAY).

What's most unusual about Lasky's new book is that if readers don't pay attention to the dust jacket flap, they may be a good hundred pages in before realizing that this is not a straightforward historical novel. May's supernatural origins consistently take a backseat to the realistic setting and well-researched historical details of late 19th-century New England. Although it may surprise some fantasy-hungry readers, this approach allows Lasky to successfully integrate themes about social class, obedience, education, and young women's aspirations into her narrative. The result is a richer novel that still reveals plenty of magic and mystery. Readers will eagerly await their chance to meet Hannah and May's third sister in the next volume of this evocative, romantic series.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 1, 2011

Daughters of the Sea: May
by Kathryn Lasky