Hello, everyone! This week I’m publishing something that I don’t usually, but am planning to more often. A book review!
For those curious, there will not be spoilers in this review. I’m a believer in the power of an initial read – there really is nothing like reading a wonderful book for the first time without knowing the ending.
The book I’m reviewing today is “Coral” by Sara Ella. Written by an on-the-rise, imaginative author, this YA fantasy book tugs at the heartstrings. Published by Thomas Nelson in 2019, it is still pretty new, as well.
“Coral” is inspired by the original telling of “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen. However, it takes the themes and story elements of “The Little Mermaid” and runs with them off the beaten path, into completely different territory.
Those who are familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” will know that it has a tragic ending. “Coral” leans towards this darker storyline, and definitely isn’t Disney, but that is part of what adds to its overall appeal.
Following its three main protagonists, Brooke, Merrick, and Coral (a mermaid), Ella skillfully interweaves three different situations into a story with deep relevance. Brooke, a girl struggling with depression and anxiety, is in a group therapy home. Merrick, growing up in the shadow of his father’s control, is struggling to help his younger sister, who is spiraling out of control. Coral, though seemingly unrelated at first, ties these two together in ways I could only guess when I began reading.
So, if you can surmise from this description, “Coral” is much heavier than Disney’s rendition of “The Little Mermaid”. Coral explores heavy topics such as suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
At times, “Coral” can get very dark. I know it would be triggering for many who have struggled with, are struggling with, or have watched someone else struggle with any of the issues mentioned above. Yet at the same time, Ella handles these issues with grace and sensitivity alongside incredible honesty. As someone who walked alongside my sister as she lived in a group therapy home, Ella’s depiction of Brooke’s experience is authentic. I also can understand Merrick’s journey as a “bystander”, so to speak; of powerlessness over the mental illnesses devastating his family.
Also, while there is incredible heaviness throughout the novel, the end is hopeful and profound. “Coral” isn’t all darkness, in other words. You’ll just have to read it to find out exactly what I mean 😉
The fantasy/fairy tale aspect of “Coral” is a smaller, but no less important, element throughout the story. The allegorical, almost dissociative sense written into Coral and her life under the sea closely aligns with the true purpose of the book: to educate on the real human experience of mental illness through reflecting on how emotion and grit play into it as both a concept and deeply personal trial. Coral’s portion of the book also sheds light on the power of fictional stories to tell truths other forms of writing can’t, and to offer healing and understanding when trying to face personal wounds – a truth I myself have found true and applicable.
As separate as the three main storylines may seem at the beginning of the book, that had me hooked. I was so curious about how the author would tie the three stories together. And, without giving too much away, the ending satisfies.
I must express, on top of all of this, Ella’s clear writing skill. Her prose is beautiful and almost melodic, while also clear, concise, and well-paced. All of her words have a purpose, and all contribute to suck the reader into the story and create a narrative that resonates in the reader’s soul long after the book is re-shelved.
Because it will be re-shelved. For sure. This one’s a keeper.
I must reiterate, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the book’s depictions of mental health issues, while honest, could be triggering for those struggling or having struggled with various mental health issues. But for those who haven’t, or who are at a place where certain depictions may not be triggering, “Coral” is an enlightening book that puts a human face on issues that people often misunderstand or that are simply taught as by-the-book, easily solved dilemmas rather than examined with nuance.
Ultimately, if you couldn’t tell yet, I recommend “Coral”. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and just confused enough to want to keep reading while not too confused, and the prose breathes of skill, empathy, and truth. An enlightening, heart-wrenching, bittersweet, yet hopeful work that will find a place on my bookshelf (and I hope yours!) for years to come.
If you’ve never heard of Sara Ella and are interested in checking out not only Coral but the rest of her books, here’s the link to her website: https://saraella.com/ She’s definitely one of my favorite authors now!
And with that I say, thanks for reading! Have a blessed Thursday 🙂