Thursday, September 16, 2010

Through the Looking Glass: The Mermaid's Mirror by L. K. Madigan

Lifting the lid of the trunk, the scent of salt air drifted into her nostrils. It was as if she had stepped outside.

Her name jumped out at her--SELENA. Lena pulled an envelope out of the pile and stared at it--a cream-colored envelope with no other adornment, just her name. It was sealed. Lena opened the envelope.

My darling Selena,

You are four weeks old today, and already I cannot imagine life without you.

But I take up the pen today knowing that if you are reading this, it means that we have been parted. The unthinkable has happened.

The only force that could take me away from you is as ancient as mother-love, magic. On this day in the future when you read these words, know that I would never leave you. I may have been taken from you by magic...but please know, my precious maid, I would never go willingly.
Your loving mother

Lena has always been drawn to the sea, despite her father's refusal to allow her to surf, inexplicable in the face of his own love of it as a young man. But as her sixteenth birthday nears, Lena finds herself suddenly waking on the nighttime beach, where she has sleepwalked the two blocks from her home, drawn irresistibly to the place where her father and her dead mother were said to have met, Magic Crescent Cove. Although her strange behavior obviously worries her dad and step-mom Allie, Lena makes plans to defy their ban against learning to surf. She finds herself an apparent natural at the sport and impulsively sets out to surf at Magic's despite its dangerous waves. But when she wipes out and is thrown against the bottom, she feels unknown hands lifting her up to safety and pressing a golden key into her hand.

As if under some enchantment, Lena searches her home for a lock that fits her key, and when she discovers the chest concealed under her parents' bedroom floor, she finds her real mother's letter and her mother's coral comb and mirror inside. The letter hints at magic, and when Lena gazes long into the mirror, she suddenly gets a glimpse of the magic in her mother's world.

Lena sees in the mirror her mother's present life with merfolk in the California coastal waters near her home. She already has seen what she believed to be a mermaid watching her from offshore. Now she knows her mother has somehow regained her memory of her life on land and is longing for Lena to come to her, and at last she is compelled to go. And when she finds her mother waiting on the rocks at midnight, Lena cannot resist, following that overwhelming call to go with her, slipping inside the magic sealskin coat which enables her to join her mother's welcoming family undersea, but which begins almost imperceptibly to deprive her of the memory of her human family. Undersea, the mermaid's daughter feels herself inexplicably at home, even finding love with a beautiful young merman, Nix. But Lena has brought the mermaid's mirror with her under the sea, and instinctively knows that its magic will work both ways if she chooses to look into it.

L. K. Madigan's The Mermaid's Mirror (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), forthcoming in October, draws upon the folklore motif of the halfling, born between two worlds, the earthly and the supernatural, deftly flipping the plotline of Andersen's familiar mermaid tale and fitting it into a credible modern framework of a California surfside town. Although the climax involving Lena's choice is a bit Deus ex-mirror, Lena is a believable modern girl, rooted within deep love in her two families and yet forced to find a third way which is her own. A different sort of young adult fantasy, blissfully absent of blood and fangs, The Mermaid's Mirror is a dip into the supernatural which nevertheless plumbs the depths of the adolescent search for a place in the world that fits their own skin.

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