Author: Sara Ella
Publication Date: November 12th, 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Romance, retellings
Age Range: YA
Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.
Trigger warnings: suicide, self-harm, anxiety, depression
There’s more than one way to drown.
Marketed as a tragic retelling of The Little Mermaid, Coral is narrated by three protagonists. There’s Coral, who after losing her sister to the Red Tide is more concerned than ever that she is also affected by the Disease that is found in humans – emotions. She has to hide her own affliction from her family, and finds her way to the surface to hunt down the prince responsible for her sister’s death.
Far from a mystical mermaid, Brooke is just a human, teenage girl dealing with her own variation of the Disease. Her anxiety and depression have landed her in a group therapy home, which keeps promising a second chance at life. Somehow, she’s not so sure that’s something they can guarantee. Meanwhile Merrick is enjoying all of the luxuries of life, but after his younger sister’s suicide attempt, he gets desperate and takes her far away from the reach of their father, who he blames for her mental health and the disappearance of their mother.
Their worlds collide, as Coral hunts for her prince and Merrick for his mom, with Brooke searching for something no one else can help her find. Coral tells the story of three people affected by mental health in very different ways, and the ways in which we choose to live.
Your truth and my truth are very different things.
Coral is charmingly contemporary and a great blend of the retelling of a classic such as The Little Mermaid and references to modern pop culture – I was especially amused by the nod to Joanna Gaines’ line at Target, as well as the Gilmore Girls reference. The minor characters add heart to the story, and provide much needed hope in the lives of the protagonists. There is genuine humor and wit interspersed throughout the novel, providing what could be a needed break from all of the heavier emotions and topics. Still, the trigger warning at the beginning of the novel is nothing to take lightly, nor is the content itself.
One of the characters I found myself most interested in was Merrick’s dad. There’s so much mystery surrounding the intentions behind his actions, and I kept wanting to know more about their family’s past. While Merrick’s heritage (he’s half Japanese, half white) isn’t a central part of the story and Sara Ella herself isn’t Asian, I was pleasantly surprised by the nuances that were incorporated in the book. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health in the Asian community, and while I wish it was touched upon a little more than it was, there are other, own voices stories out there that I can’t wait to get my hands on instead.
That’s the first step toward healing. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers all the time. Understanding there isn’t always a why and sometimes we feel the way we feel because we do. And that’s okay.
Coral features several twists as the story unfolds. If you’re like me and love solving a good puzzle, watching the pieces fall in place is pretty damn satisfying. From what I’ve seen of other reviews, some readers found the multiple POVs and the non-linear timeline confusing, but it helps that Brooke is our only first-person, present tense POV, while Merrick and Coral both use third-person, past tense. The romance is a little rushed, but not to the point where it’s unbelievable, considering how similar the characters’ experiences are. The romance also isn’t the central focus of the story, which I really appreciate. The small things truly make up the characters and allow them to shine, including the ways in which Merrick takes note of other peoples’ mental health and tries his best to accommodate each person’s individual needs. He isn’t perfect – none of them are – but he’s trying to do whatever he can to be an ally, and I think that’s something we need more of, in books and in reality.
You are fine. You’d be fine if you’d only choose to be.
People’s experiences with mental health are all unique. Sara Ella acknowledges this in her reader’s note at the beginning of the book, and emphasizes how an experience does not have to be the same as everyone else’s in order to be valid. This quote in particular resonated with me, as it is something I’ve heard plenty of times before.
Coral is about finding and embracing your humanity and all of the feelings – good and bad – that come along with it. As someone who struggles with anxiety in a semi-traditional Asian household, the words King Jonah says to Coral about her emotions are all too familiar. People who struggle with mental health and people who find it difficult to understand those who struggle with mental health alike have a lot to gain from this novel. There were so many little moments where the narrators experienced subtle signs of anxiety that I could relate to all too well and it was really refreshing to see that portrayed and acknowledged in a book for teens who might be going through the same thing. Ella doesn’t shy away from the reality of peoples’ struggles with mental health, including the on-going recovery process and what can happen after. Towards the end of the book, I was blinking away tears at work, and the conversations and revelations that happen are so so necessary for those who are affected by mental illness, those who are watching loved ones be affected, and those who are unaffected and don’t understand. Coral talks about the guilt people can feel and how to overcome it, and is truly powerful.
Links for Coral