Mermaids have been making waves in the world of young adult fiction, and not in the ‘Disney’s Ariel singing on a rock’ kind of way (the 2023 release earns a ‘closer but not quite’ award and I’ll have a full review soon). The sun-kissed hair and the melodious voices are still there, but they are now often paired with a dose of eerie darkness, cloaked in enigmatic intrigue. Oh yes, the age of harmless, enchanting mermaids is past. We’ve entered a new era: the reign of dark, formidable sea sirens, who’ve swum away from being mere eye-candy and become commanding characters with intriguing tales of their own.

One of my own attempts at creating a rather shadowy sea-world is The Atlantis Twins Goodreads. Alysa Grey, in the aftermath of a boating accident that claimed her twin, embarks on a nautical journey steeped in love, treachery, and chilling secrets. As she unveils the ominous undercurrents behind the Ocean Alliance’s friendly façade and her own haunted past, the tale reminds us that not all that shimmers is safe, and sometimes, it’s much easier to be lost than found.

Joining the current of edgy marine literature, Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly introduces us to the world of mermaid warriors, where sisterhood and destiny intertwine beneath the ocean’s surface. Here, mermaids are the protagonists, not mere attractions, with adventures as vast as the sea itself.

Ingo by Helen Dunmore, another remarkable contribution to the genre, spins a haunting tale where the pull of the sea and its mysterious inhabitants tug at the human heart. In this poignant narrative, the enchanting allure of the deep sea calls out, but also harbors unseen dangers.

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli explores the darker themes of love and sacrifice, painting a picture of a mermaid who is more than just a pretty face. It’s a compelling read, where the line between love and obsession blurs, and the enchanting tunes can sometimes lead to despair.

These tantalizing tales and many more make it clear that the era of the harmless, pretty mermaid is well and truly gone. Today’s mermaids are complicated characters with their own histories, struggles, and victories. They are not mere decoration for a sailor’s tale but rather the pulsing heart of their narratives, shaping the events with their choices and actions.

In truth, the transformation of mermaids in young adult fiction is a testament to the genre’s ability to evolve and explore complex themes and narratives. The philosophy behind these mermaids embodies a shift in society’s perspective on femininity, power, and mystery. Previously viewed through a lens of beauty and enchantment, mermaids are now symbolic of strength, resilience, and the freedom to define oneself. Their stories, much like their personas, are filled with layers and intricacies, highlighting the significance of viewing individuals beyond their physical appearances and preconceived stereotypes.

The profound symbolism associated with mermaids extends far beyond the realms of fantasy. These aquatic creatures, transitioning from ethereal beauty to independent, formidable beings, encapsulate a critical lesson about embracing change and complexity. Viewing mermaids from this nuanced perspective underlines the importance of acknowledging the depth of character and personality that lies beneath the surface, a perspective that resonates significantly with young adults who are navigating their identities and trying to understand the world around them.

By subverting the long-established image of mermaids, these stories encourage readers to delve into the complexities of individual identities and question societal norms. The mermaid, once the embodiment of alluring simplicity, has now become a beacon of transformative complexity, a symbol of the ongoing struggle for identity and autonomy that resonates with so many. Such an evolution in our understanding and depiction of mermaids can only be healthy, encouraging us to value the multifaceted nature of individuals and society.

In the end, the murky depths of the sea where these mermaids reside stand as a reminder that life is a journey of continual discovery, of diving into the unknown to uncover truths about ourselves and the world around us. It emphasizes that it’s okay to not have everything figured out, and that life, much like the sea, is filled with uncertainties, mysteries, and an abundance of opportunities for growth and self-realization.

Young adult fiction has found the perfect canvas to craft stories that are enchanting and thrilling, often with a chilling undertone. So, the next time you feel the need to escape the mundane, why not take a deep dive into the dark waters of mermaid fiction? Just don’t forget to come up for air.