To Catch a Mermaid by Suzanne Selfors
Borrowed from the Camden County Library System
Much like Sloane Crosley's ongoing joke as told in her brilliant I Was Told There'd Be Cake about the ponies, I tell people all the time how my parents told me that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, and that I'm still waiting to become a mermaid. In my childhood, this was totally believable. I was the little girl who could only be lured from the pool to prove that I hadn't grown a tail. Of course, that wound up being a dirty rotten trick which culminated in my being scooped up in a towel and promptly taken to a location away from the vicinity of the pool. I still have my original Hans Christian Anderson book of stories. Like all of my books, no matter how many times I've read the book, it still looks like new. The Little Mermaid (I decided that her name was Pearl as a child and was surprised by Ariel in the Disney version) was my favorite, no matter how many times she turned to sea foam because her love was unrequited. Still, I wanted to be a mermaid. I never considered the possibility of finding one.
I think all that reminiscing about my love of mermaids and desire to be one just kept me from having to describe how very sad and frustrating I found this book to be. Boom Broom's life is a mess. His sister, Mertyle and his father haven't left the house since the twister came and plucked Mrs. Broom from the yard, never to be seen again. Mr. Broom hides in the attic, terrified of the wind, and the possibility of another tornado. Mertyle is waiting for the tornado to return, bringing her mother back with it.
In almost every possible way, it completely sucks to be Boom Broom. His mom is gone, his father and sister have lost their minds, Halvor the viking obsessed caregiver that takes care of the house and the kids, feeds them mostly fish, every meal. Boom's clothes and person are dirty, with no mom to suggest baths, his shoes and socks are holey, he lives in a house that's falling down and no money coming in for bill paying, upkeep or repairs.
On his way home from school, Boom is supposed to stop and pick up more fish for Halvor to cook for the family's meals. He meets up with a ship's captain who offers him his choice of the contents of the reject bucket. Boom wrestles with a big fighting fish and struggles to get it home. It turns out that it isn't a fish at all, but a merbaby. When Mertyle falls in love with it and begs to keep and care for it, Boom can't say no to his sister.
This book was so depressing. The Brooms are a family who are so far into their decline that they have absolutely hit rock bottom. Yet, somehow, everyone who knows them, seems to make a point to kick them when their down. Of course, the one getting kicked on behalf of the entire family is Boom. He's in elementary school and he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's got a principal with a frightening and all consuming power complex. And then there are the neighbors who lie, cheat, steal and bully. Even finding the merbaby and the happiness it gives Mertyle is spoiled by the fact that it is making her deathly ill. These people can't get a break. Every time something that seems like it might be good happens, it goes horribly wrong.
The author did give everyone a happy ending and brought people together to help Boom and his family, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it that far. I don't know how anyone could write a story about a kid and constantly do such horrible stuff to him. On Goodreads, some readers made comparisons to Roald Dahl, but even Dahl through his downtrodden protagonist a bone every now and then.