I do not read many fiction books that target a younger audience. At least, not in comparison to the rest of the books I do get through in any given year. Surprisingly, many of the ones I have picked up come under the historical fiction category.
This is one such book. One point that struck me, besides the choice of a monstrous mermaid being the central character, was the idea of workhouses and owning the deed to a child (or that’s what it amounts to in the long run). It is not very graphic but does not shy away from pointing out the misfortune that befell children who had no one to care for them in long-ago London. It limits itself to beatings and starving as punishment, which some older children may be able to read and question how such a society functioned and if and by how much times have changed. I think it is a topic that children would find alarming but have the aptitude to dig deeper. Parents should obviously know this point before letting any younger ones read it.
Moving on to the story itself, it is short and an almost graphic novel. It has chunks of text bookended by drawings, making it a very immersive experience. Bess is eleven and works in a cotton mill. She has worked in one in the city previously, but the current one has a myth of a mermaid in the surrounding waters. She does not like to think of her past or make friends. She ends up doing both over the course of the story. It is a sad story, and I see potential in continuing it as a series. There is also resilience in it, providing some hope for its characters.
I would recommend it to readers and children whose parents think they can read it without feeling unduly sad about the state of things.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.