Monday, November 2, 2015

Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler, 2015

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A field trip to a mysterious island quickly turns into an adventure when Emily Windsnap and Aaron discover a secret lookout point from which they spot a ghostly ship that no one else seems to be able to see. The ship appears and disappears only at certain times of day—growing fainter each time. Searching for answers only leads to more questions until Emily and her friends confront the island’s keeper, uncovering the incredible story of a ship caught between land and sea, day and night . . . life and death. Only Emily, with her ability to transform from mermaid to human, can enter Atlantis to try to bring the ship’s passengers back before the portal is closed forever. Emily knows that if she fails, not only will the passengers never see their loved ones again, but Emily won’t be able to return either. Will she be able to resist the allure of Atlantis and return home before it’s too late?
(288 pages)

I was nine when I read the first Emily Windsnap book - the girl two doors down lent it to me with her high recommendation, and I devoured it in under a week. I fell in love with the premise, the characters, the twisty plot - everything.

That was five books, and seven years, ago. I've been reading the Emily Windsnap books as they came out for years and years, and my opinion of the series has slowly declined as I outgrew the target audience, and the books themselves became more and more watered down (no pun intended). After all, you can't write five books after a book that could very well be a standalone, and not begin to scrape the bottom of the barrel. When Aaron was first introduced, I thought it was a very desperate move - and one I didn't approve of. Thirteen-year-olds falling into "like" and becoming boyfriend and girlfriend really isn't my thing, you know?

But somehow things clicked for me in this one. Where the previous books had begun to feel a little flat, I think Emily's relationship with Aaron (and, to a certain extent, her friendship with Mandy) helped to ground the book and make the inter-personal relationships interesting once more. Now that we were past the awkward "will-we-or-won't-we" with Aaron (I hate watching people bobble about deciding whether they "like like" each other), they became a very interesting pair. There's a little bit of that "contrived misunderstanding" thing going on between them about how strong their feelings are for each other, but I feel like Kessler handled it really well - by making it an integral part of the plot for Emily to be unable to decide how she feels about Aaron (she has to consciously keep herself in limbo for the majority of the book), Kessler makes it a much stronger, sweeter thing when the inevitable "revealing our feelings" scene does come around.

My biggest trouble with this book isn't connected to the romance at all, actually. It's a rather secondary thing in the grand scheme of the story, and probably only bothers me because I loved the early books so much. But how can mermaids go from being a deep, dark secret (Emily grew up without a father because the king of the mermaids put him in jail for revealing himself to and marrying a human) to so hum-drum that no one even cares that Emily and Aaron are part mermaid? I mean, I realize it may be old news to their classmates by now, but surely they'd still get some sort of social backlash (whether in the form of popularity or outcast status)? I mean, Emily reflects herself at one point that it's only been a year since she found out mermaids even existed, which means that humans can't have known about mermaids for very long (they don't find out until only a book or two before this one), and therefore there should be way more hullabaloo around Emily and Aaron - and, for that matter, around the mermaid students who are also studying on Five Bays Island. I'm sad that there isn't more discussion of the ramifications of the revelation that mermaids existed. I was always fascinated by the interplay between humans and mermaids - this was one of the reasons I loved the first book so much - so it's a pity that Kessler has left it behind for other topics.

I can't complain too much, though. I honestly enjoyed Ship of Lost Souls, despite my sneaking suspicion going in that this would be the official end of my affection for the Emily Windsnap books. Kessler has succeeded in recapturing my attention, though, and if she ever decides to make a seventh book (though I hope she doesn't), I will definitely have it on my radar.

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher at KidLitCon.

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