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Book Review: The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

The SUrface Breaks 2

 

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review. 

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling/Feminism

Plot: Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

Opinion:

“’How much you are prepared to give up for one you know so little.’”

This isn’t The Little Mermaid tale you know and love.

It’s dark.

It’s painful.

It’s every hurt, wound and fear in your soul that you’ve been unable to express in words.

This book is for the girls who need to know their worth.

For the women who need reminding.

For the boys who must learn to be gentle.

And the men who need to be shown.

 

“A Woman’s no can so easily be turned into a yes by men who do not want to listen.”

 

These waters are dark and deep, so tread carefully.

 

“Either I am silent above the surface, or I spend the rest of my life screaming for mercy down here, the water muffling my cries.”

Gaia knows what it means to live in silence. To listen and obey her father, the Sea King, for his word is law and he is generous. To only speak when spoken to, to keep her tail and physique in pristine condition, and to never deny the wants of a man. But what Gaia truly yearns for is to know why her mother left them for the human world. What it is like above the surface, and how to escape her arranged marriage to a brutal man who looks at her with dominance and greed in his eyes.  As her fifteenth birthday nears, like all mermaids, Gaia will have the chance to break the surface and glimpse at what resides above the water. But when her desires to be free of her tail and to escape her future turns to desperation, she makes a deal that will change her life forever.

“Muireann of the Green Sea cursed me with wanderlust and a thirst for dry air that could not be quenched.”

The Surface Breaks is the heartbreaking feminist re-imagining that I have been needing all year. It beautifully details the sorrows, desperation and fear that women feel on a regular basis. That they are less than, that they are only wanted for their looks, and that they must strip themselves bare in order to be pleasing, worthy or loved. It portrays the life of a young girl and her sisters who have been taught that they are decoration for the pleasure of men, and that their desires are wrong and unnatural if they do not fit into the opinions of men that have been made into law.

“Please don’t touch me, I want to say, but I know that a woman’s body may always be touched if so desired. I am blessed to attract such attention. Everyone says it, so it must be true.”

Gaia is a sweet, gentle, innocent and delicate young girl who yearns to understand why her mother abandoned her. Just like Ariel, she is deeply attracted to the human world by the trinkets and baubles that she has been able to collect on the ocean floor. Her father tells the girls that their mother was weak and gave into her obsession to reside with the humans, and it resulted in her eventual death and capture at their hands.

It was incredibly difficult experiencing Gaia’s sadness and feelings of hopelessness as she went through the motions of her life. She is one of several sisters who are forced to be subservient, to attain a certain level of constant beauty and appeal, and who are married off by the desires and convenience of their father.

“I am the diamond in my father’s crown, and he is determined to wear me as such.”

This book has a dark and nauseating undertone that is necessary to the story, but still very hard to sit with. Gaia is betrothed to a man who is beyond creepy, inappropriate and vile. He treats her as if she is nothing but a doll that has been made for his pleasure and amusement, and she has no say in the matter. I felt suffocated and sick watching her character be treated so horribly. This book touches on some VERY serious themes that may be disturbing for some, so be weary. After all, Gaia was ONLY TWELVE when her father arranged her marriage to a man in his 60’s!

“His lips against my check, too close to my mouth. It is as if he wants to peel my skin away from my body and taste it on his tongue.”

“The nausea might subside when we are bonded”

But the theme of Gaia and the women in The Surface Breaks having zero control over their own lives is a constant! If a mermaid isn’t pretty, thin or appealing enough to the Sea King or any men in the kingdom, they are banished. Gaia is forced to give up her voice in order to be near the man she loves, and the Rusalka girls are treated as vile creatures hell-bent on bringing out destruction. The despair that these beautiful women feel is screaming through these pages, trying desperately to be heard. My heart was aching throughout this read, and I still feel a sense of loss and anger as I sit here typing away.

“’And the pain?’” I ask. ‘Will that go away?’

‘Oh no,’ she replies. ‘But women are meant to suffer.’”

The romance in this story is also an unconventional one. It has honestly left me feeling hopeless for romance in real life, and just reinforces my opinion that book boyfriends are the ONLY boyfriends you should EVER allow in your home. Because the feelings and relationship that Gaia has with Oliver will be able to resonate with EVERY female. That feeling of giving everything about yourself away to gain the attention of a boy. How we so quickly and easily shred, distort and disfigure ourselves in order to feel a glimpse of love from another.

“…I sewed my own mouth shut in the hopes that a boy I barely knew could kiss it open again.”

“All the things that I have ignored about this man in order to make the narrative of true love and destiny fit. I tried to make him as perfect as I needed him to be.”

I am so blown away by the love and intent that was put into this book. Every sentence is purposeful, every feeling, detailed and poetically written. I had SO many emotions racing through me while reading! I wanted nothing more than to reach into my kindle and wrap my arms around these girls. To protect them and tell them it will be okay…even when sometimes, it wouldn’t be okay. This book REALLY hits home and strikes hard.

To be honest, I could probably write this review with only quotes that I highlighted from this book, and that would be reason enough for you to want to buy it immediately. It is a beautiful and distressing tale, but it is a tale with an immensely important message. To know your worth and to stand up for yourself. To care for one another. To treat women with respect. To not shed who you are for the pleasure of another.

Please read this.

“’A woman needs to be strong to survive.’”

 

5-stars

 

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18 thoughts on “Book Review: The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

  1. This is a fab review! I’ve wanted to read this for so long, especially after reading Only Ever Yours for the syllabus in my first year at university. Louise O’Neill is definitely something. Super excited to pick this up in future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is the only book by Louise that I have read so far, but I am DYING to get my hands on Only Ever Yours and Asking For It. My heart is literally singing for these feminist stories. If they are anything like The Surface Breaks, then I know I am going to be happily gutted!

      Liked by 1 person

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