Review: The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

“Are you ready to sing, little mermaid?”

– Louise O’Neill

Release Date: August 13, 2019
Thank you Edelweiss+ and Scholastic Press for an eARC of this novel!


Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. 

Let me start by first saying that I have no idea what is going on with the publishing of this novel. It was apparently released in May of 2018 but I recieved this ARC and it states that it is being published August 2019. From what I’ve read it is the exact same book with no major changes having been made. I wish some had though. This was posed as a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid and I don’t see that anywhere except for maybe the last 5%-10% of the book.

Gaia is the youngest and most beautiful daughter of the all powerful Sea King, who can do no wrong and everything he says is the truth of the kingdom. The mer-world was very misogynistic. Mer-men were allowed to do whatever they wanted while the maids had to fit a certain standard of looks or they were cast out. Maids were also not allowed to be educated and basically were only good for arranged marriages and making the new generation. The only maid who can speak her mind is the Sea Witch, whose powers rival if not surpass the Kings’, who has turned her back on the kingdom to gain this freedom and protect the Selkas (sirens).

Only on their 15th birthday are mer-men and maids allowed to go to the surface and glimpse the world above. Gaia has always been obsessed with the world above since her mother loved it and visited often, only to be captured by humans. On her trip to the surface she sees a boy, Oliver, who she instantly falls in love with and saves from a shipwreck by sacrificing his girlfriend. She then approaches the Sea Witch to get legs and make Oli fall in love with her but there is a catch, she only has a month to do so or she will die.

This book was slow and followed the typical Little Mermaid script. Mermaid sees boy, Mermaid saves boy, gives up her tail and voice for feet and then has to win him over with only her looks. The boy is a self-absorbed jerk though who is more interested in partying than the family business that pays for his life and really only uses Gaia to get over the death of his girlfriend. Gaia soon discovers that the world above is no different than the world she left below the water, but still decides to chase after the stupid boy anyways.

The ending was amazing and just what I wanted, but it needed more after it. The ending was sudden with a lot of stuff thrown into it that was abruptly cut off. I simultaneously loved and hated Gaia for her views and how boxed in she had become due to her father. It was not her fault that she thought the way she did, but considering how much she questioned the order of things in the Kingdom I just expected more from her during certain scenes on the surface. I didn’t like this book because the moment it seemed like some serious change was going to happen it was cut off. I want to know what happens next, less fluff more of the feminist power I was promised. I didn’t need the full Little Mermaid storyline, just the gist and then the feminist movement. Cut out a ton of the middle or beginning fluff and give me more of the Gaia from the end.

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