Coral by Sara Ella

Title: Coral

Author: Sara Ella

Published By: Thomas Nelson (coming Nov. 2019)

Synopsis:

There is more than one way to drown.

Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. **

I spent the majority of this novel experiencing intense confusion.

Positives:

I do not have any personal experience with mental illness, but it seemed to be treated absolutely respectfully and carefully, and I respect the author for that. The descriptions and depictions were very thorough and gentle, leaving me with a very tangible sense for some of these illnesses. And I liked how the aspects worked and grew throughout the plot, giving the reader a full picture, not just a glimpse. As well, I heartily applaud the mantras in this book, such as, “You are Not Nothing” and the side themes reminding readers that no matter what, they do matter and they are not nothing.

Merrick had some fantastic morals and was also surprisingly real. He was easy to emphathize with, even when he held occasional viewpoints I didn’t relate to or condone.

I adored the mermaid setting in the beginning, and found it so thorough and creative.

Negatives:

In my opinion, there were too many characters to keep track of. The fact that SPOILER> two of the characters ended up being the same person under different names, and with different aliases for the same characters, made it even more hard to keep track of <SPOILER. At first, the stories were different enough that I could keep them separated, but by halfway through, the stories intertwined and twisted together so fast I couldn’t keep up.

A huge chunk of the story felt choppy and underdeveloped to me. Major events in the story, critical seasons in the lives of characters, and crucial turning points are jumped over or narrated over, only giving us glimpses into the character’s mind after the fact and not during the transformation.

Furthermore, while I figured out a lot of the twists and reveals fairly quickly, they were not actually revealed until much, much later in the book, leaving me feeling disjointed and doubting the story entirely, wondering what on earth it was supposed to mean if it wasn’t what I thought, and if it was, why the reader was still being treated as if they were in the dark.

SPOILERS

So basically Brooke was Coral the whole time, which I guessed pretty fast. The whole mermaid setting and plot in the beginning was just an allegory story-within-the-story, which is a really cool concept, but it wasn’t revealed until the last few pages and that really messed with me because it wasn’t something you can really easily see coming. The whole book I was waiting to find out how on earth Coral turned into a human, why, how she transitioned, and why there was absolutely no detail or description on her transition, and no explanation for it either.  It did occur to me to wonder if it was an allegory or something along those lines, but whenever I started wondering, a character would reference Red Tide or something distinctly from the mermaid world and make me rethink everything. Since this wasn’t cleared up until the last few pages, I was confused for most of the book.

Having the same character—Brooke—as two different people—Brooke and Coral—is super creative and different, but to be honest, I’m not sure it worked. I was endlessly confused, like I’ve already said enough, and it was difficult to keep straight, especially since, as I mentioned earlier, I suspected they were the same person about a quarter of the way through but didn’t get any confirmation until the last few chapters of the novel. Merrick, in theory, could have provided a lot of structure and support to the story, helping hold it together, but he actually just added more confusion with his whole set of characters and how they all worked together and how they somehow tied in with everything?! Also, the fact that two POVs were past, one was present, and the timelines for all three kept changing and bouncing made everything harder to understand.

Brooke’s story lining up with Coral’s was really cool, but I was just still so confused on the aspect the mermaid world never existed to really appreciate it. I do think that mermaid aspect of the story—with Brooke rewriting her life as an allegory—was super creative! I almost think had we known from the beginning that it was a story within a story it would have been a lot more enjoyable and easier to read. Also, whatever became of Coral’s synesthesia? When it was first revealed in her mermaid state, I was so excited because this is something that fascinates me—but halfway through, this aspect just disappears, never to be mentioned again.

OVERALL:

I just don’t know how to feel about this book. I really loved some of the themes about an “after” and all the thematics of support and care and not avoiding emotions or treating them like a disease. I really, really liked that. It was excellent. And I do love the whole premise/concept of the story with the differentiating worlds and multiple sides of the same character, and I have to admire the author’s tenacity, bravery, and creativity at this story—but it just didn’t pay off for me.

I do want to mention that a lot of this is aftertaste from the sense that I didn’t necessarily dislike the book as I was reading it; I did enjoy it as I went, and was excited to get back when I had to stop. Once I finished and reflected, a lot just stood out that tainted my overall opinion. I feel like that was mostly because as I was going I could still wonder on how everything would clear up, but looking back after finishing, the fact is I still feel pretty confused and didn’t really see or feel the payoff.

So: Super impressed at the author’s creativity and bravery, but confused and unimpressed in the story as it stands. 3.5 stars.

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