The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell

The Blurb On The Back:

I am soul of song and water

I am fine and bone of star

I was dreamed from waves and moonlight

And my heart has swam so far

Minnow has grown up on a boat, hearing stories about a strange, enchanted ocean called The Wild Deep.

Now with her mother missing and questions to be answered, Minnow must make the dangerous journey to a hidden world, where fairytales become reality. And it will change Minnow forever … 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Minnow lives with her mother, Mercy, and her dog, Miyuki on a ship in Brighton. Minnow is an excellent swimmer, able to hold her breath for ages as she dives down into the depths of the sea and her mum is well known in the city for the silver hook on her right hand and her mane of red hair. Their ship – The Seafarer – is rigged to look like a pirate’s ship and Mercy makes a living by charging admission to tourists to walk around and check out a collection of marvels she has from the sea.

One night Mercy tells Minnow to hide in the sea shortly before she is visited by three men – Ely, Jah Jah and Louis – who want her to give them a map that can lead them to where the mermaids. When she refuses – because clearly, mermaids don’t exist – the men kidnap her, leaving Minnow and Miyuki on their own. Mercy told Minnow to sail to Reykavik and stay with her grandmother Arielka if anything happened to her but when Arielka reveals a secret that Mercy has been keeping, Minnow realises that to rescue her mum she needs to make a dangerous journey to a weird and dangerous land that will change her life forever …

Cerrie Burnell’s fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (illustrated by Sandra Dieckmann) puts diversity front and centre (Mercy has one hand and Minnow is bi-racial and finds walking on land difficult) but the writing is clunky and Burnell seems unsure about the relationship between her fantasy elements and the real world while characters frequently make strange decisions that only exist to service the plot, such that I didn’t enjoy it.

There were things about the book that I enjoyed. Minnow is brave and determined and Burnell does a good job of showing the otherness that comes both from her being bi-racial and also because of her Wild Deep heritage. Also well done is the relationship between Minnow and her mum with Mercy with the two clearly loving each other very deeply, which gives Minnow’s reaction to the discovery that her mum has been keeping some major secrets from her emotional depth. In the introduction Burnell says that the story was inspired in part by her own childhood (like Mercy, she also has one hand and had to wear a hook as a child, which she was very self conscious and ashamed about) and by her own bi-racial daughter as Burnell said she found it difficult to find books about children with dual heritages. I think those are great motives and the best parts of the book are where Burnell tackles both those objectives, which I think she does in a way that’s subtle and engaging.

Unfortunately, I found that the story itself really failed to engage me, mainly because I found Burnell’s writing style to be very clunky. There’s a lot of head hopping between characters within scenes (most notably later in the book when Minnow is helped by Raife) and Burnell over-uses similes to the point that some of them really don’t add anything to the descriptions she’s making. In addition the plot is driven by Minnow and Raife making rash decisions that don’t make a whole lot of sense (e.g. some Mer people decide to kidnap Raife so they can take The Seafarer, although it’s never explained why they actually need a ship). I also found the relationship between the fantasy elements and the ‘real world’ elements to be poorly thought through such that there are inconsistencies that kept throwing me out of the story, e.g. Raife is a normal human boy but apparently likes to dive into the North Sea around Iceland wearing his normal clothes and having weights in his shoes, which didn’t make a lot of sense and nor does the fact that The Seafarer doesn’t seem to suffer any ill effects when it’s repeatedly pulled under water. The book is further hampered by the fact that the motives of the antagonists are muddled at times – e.g. the revelation about Jah Jah and Ely and their connection to the Wild Deep should have been enough to justify why they would be after Mercy and her map but Burnell opts to complicate it by adding in Louis (who is little more than a name with money) who apparently wants to capture a mermaid for his daughter – it doesn’t add anything and actually robs the antagonists of some of the empathy that readers may otherwise have for them.  Finally, the pacing sags at times, not helped by Burnell’s decision to include songs within the text (although I acknowledge that this is very much a personal peeve of mine because I don’t think they usually add anything although I know other people like them).

Ultimately, although I really hoped to enjoy this book, the execution meant that I couldn’t really engage with it and was pretty glad when I got to the end.

THE GIRL WITH SHARK’S TEETH was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd January 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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