Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Also, Rivers Solomon’s preferred pronoun is they/them.
I pre-ordered this novella in July, and at the time a group of people were upset that Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in the live-action Disney remake of the Little Mermaid. While people kept claiming that it was because her hair wasn’t red, the “backlash” basically bullied down to Bailey being black because some stupid/racist people thought black mermaids weren’t a thing. I was finding books about black mermaids to mention and this showed up. So, I pre-ordered. Then I got approval via Netgalley.
Look, the book is good enough that my pre-order is still in. Well, that’s not exactly true. I cancelled the kindle pre-order and pre-ordered the hardcover (from an Indie bookstore, so the fact that I am paying 20 bucks for a book that isn’t even 200 pages should tell you everything you need to know about this book).
It’s not the little mermaid. It isn’t.
Solomon’s book is inspired by Clipping’s song of the same name (the song appeared on an episode of This American Life) and the group has written the afterword. The story is about Yetu a member of a group of undersea creatures who are the descendants of women who were throwed overboard from slave ships.
But the book is in large part about the power – both good and bad – of memory. An while the timing is undoubtedly a fluke, it is important to note the response to the 1619 Project. If you have not read the NY Times Magazine, please do so. What it does challenge, in fact, is how we view the past and how we need to face and acknowledge that past as well as its effects if we are to move forward. Tetu is caught in the past and her response to gain her freedom details why knowledge of the past is so important.
The novella is in many ways a more interior story than an exterior story. It is to Rivers Solomon’s credit that their writing keeps the reader, and this is down, in part, though the use of two different types of storytelling. But the two styles are blended by Rivers Solomon’s skilled use of craft making the story not only strong and engrossing but also engaging the reader, almost bringing the reader into the time and place.