Spoilers are in white. Highlight to reveal.
I had always dismissed this book and this series as too fluffy to try, one of those that I would find too juvenile to be enjoyable, being well past the age of Kessler’s intended audience—or too girly, too concerned with the little dramas of middle school and flirtation, but a recent event for work sent me scurrying to quickly read it to be prepared to lead a discussion. I didn’t find any available copies of the printed book at my local libraries, but I came home with a copy of the audiobook, read by the appropriately named Finty Williams.
This is not a fluff read. This was a good mystery, which I failed to solve entirely (I did solve pieces of it).
This was a story of the power of love: familial, romantic, and platonic.
Romance is a thing in this first novel left to the adults, which was refreshing. I don’t hardly remember any mention of school-aged boys, human or merperson.
This was a call against making non-traditional marriages illegal. I read this at first as a metaphor for interracial marriages, but its lessons could just as easily be applied to homosexual marriages (as I write this, the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments for and against allowing employment discriminating based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity); in the story, of course, it is a merperson and a human SPOILER ALERT (in this case, a woman and a merman, twisting Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid” tale type).
This is a story about friendship and finding friends and the promises of friendship. Emily has just started at a new school, Brightport High (she’s in Year Seven, approximately America’s 6th grade), but she has been struggling to make friends, one of the more influential girls at the school leading others away from Emily because Emily accidentally got Mandy in trouble with her parents. Emily finds a friend outside of school in Shona, a mermaid who likewise feels isolated from her classmates, who resent the teacher’s appreciation of Shona that Shona wins through her dedication to her classes. Emily and Shona wrestle with what is owed to a friend and with what their friendship means to each other.
This is a book in which a girl is bullied and ultimately decides that she is comfortable and proud of herself as she is and stands up (or swims up) proudly before her bully.
This is a delightfully British setting (enhanced in my reading probably by Williams’ accent, but Kessler too is British and hers is the dialogue). Emily and her mother live on a moored boat in their seaside town, her mother working in the nearby bookshop. The lighthouse keeper comes over ever Sunday for tea. All this sounds like a life about which I could daydream, and I could have probably happily read about life in Brightport even without the added drama and excitement of merpeople.
I think Finty Williams improved my experience of this book with her personable representation of the first-person narration by Emily and the memorable voices that she gives each other character.
All of this to say: Don’t let the pastel covers, shine, and swishy tails mislead you. This book is worth your time, with just enough meat and just enough innocence.
I’ve been listening these past few weeks to Finty Williams’ reading of the second book in the series, Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep, and though quite different from the first book, it too is proving fun while still tackling more challenging ideas. More on that book when I have finished it.
Kessler, Liz. Tail of Emily Windsnap, Book 1. Narr. Finty Williams. Listening Library, 2009.
The book was originally published in 2004. The audio CDs are no longer in print, but Penguin Random House has a digital version of the audiobook available. The link attached to the cover photo will take you to that version.
This review is not endorsed by Liz Kessler, Finty Williams, Listening Library, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.
Intended audience: Ages 8-12.
The cover photo is one that I took for the header for the Facebook event for the event that I led.