Sometimes you get into something it’s hard to get out of – now that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
But all of life is a sequence of things you get into and can’t easily get out of: relationships, jobs, places to live, family. And fiction, especially fantasy fiction, can be metaphorical about those things, and not need to be tied down to dull reality.
So when I say that Kat Leyh’s graphic novel Thirsty Mermaids is about three young people who do something fairly dumb on short notice and without thinking it through, and end up deeply stuck in a place they don’t understand at all, you can see how that could go in a million different ways. In this case, it is fantasy. The title is not a metaphor: they are mermaids.
Or, actually, they were. That was the fairly dumb thing: transforming to human so they could get more booze in some unnamed tourist-y seaside town. (It’s hard to find alcoholic beverages underwater!) They know nothing about human society, as is traditional, so they’re in for some shocks both immediate (humans need to wear clothes!) and longer-term (capitalism! money! rent! jobs!).
So, anyway, Tooth, Pearl, and Eez had that awesome idea — they could get a lot more booze if they went on land, where the humans are, and then they could come back afterward to their regular awesome lives under the sea. And the night of drinking went well: they did find some clothing, which came with a card they used to buy drinks the whole night at a bar amusingly named the Thirsty Mermaid.
Sure, they ended up passed out in an alleyway, but that’s a thing that could easily happen to humans, too.
But then Eez, their witch, realized she had no magic as a human – which means she can’t turn them back.
Luckily, the bartender they drank with the previous night, Vivi de la Vega, is a soft touch. They end up crashing with her – the narrative wisely stays silent on whether she actually believes their drunken story about being mermaids – as Pearl and Tooth learn about human life and jobs, and Eez spends her days investigating human magic and figuring out how to get things back to normal.
Leyh isn’t emphasizing the drama here: their situation is serious, but only desperate for Eez, for reasons that the characters, and Leyh, will explicate as we get deeper into the book. Tooth and Pearl could fit in reasonably well on land: they’re loud and goofy and still deeply ignorant of human ways, but they have skills and their human bodies, if weird, work and are comfortable. Eez, on the other hand, finds human skin and the open air strange and disconcerting all the time, and it’s not going to get better.
So Leyh’s plot first throws them into possibly the most fish-out-of-water moment ever, then ambles around having them do fun clueless-about-human-life activities in this town that I keep wanting to say is Santa Barbara cosplaying as Key West, and then makes it clear that return is important.
Do they make it back? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending.
Thirsty Mermaids was published by S&S’s Gallery 13 imprint, meaning that it was basically aimed at adults, unlike Leyh’s previous book Snapdragon . What that means is that there’s some incidental nudity – mermaids don’t wear clothes, remember! – that focus on alcohol as the source of and solution to all of life’s problems, and perhaps a quieter, more naturalistic story structure and a cast that have complicated depths like real adults. But it’s clearly another book by the same creator, with a lot of the same concerns and the same energy. So if you are a young reader who loved Snapdragon, or if you are in the business of getting reading materials to a young person who loved Snapdragon, I hope you are not shocked by a few cartoon boobs and, well, three very thirsty mermaids. This is a lovely, bright book full of fun moments, wonderful characters, and a deep concern for friendship and belonging.