A mermaid story that doesn't resemble a Disney film
Let's get one thing straight: The mermaid in Mark Siegel's graphic novel "Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson" (First Second, 2012) is no cute Disney creature wearing strategically placed seashells. She's beautiful, all right. She's also seductive — and, quite possibly, dangerous, more like the sirens of Greek mythology than Ariel in "The Little Mermaid."
The year is 1887. Elijah Twain, a young steamboat captain, rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the Hudson River. He carries her to her cabin and nurses her back to health.
Twain is a poet, and she becomes his muse. He keeps her a secret from the rest of the boat, from his wife and most especially, from Lafayette, the ne'er-do-well womanizer and owner of the ship. But Twain suspects that Lafayette may have a secret of his own — and that it may have something to do with mermaids.
A meeting with C.G. Beaverton, enigmatic author of "Secrets and Mysteries of the River Hudson," propels the story forward to its unexpected and deeply satisfying ending.
Siegel weaves legend, local history, intrigue and romance into a kind of fairy tale for young adults. His gorgeous, moody charcoal drawings capture the feeling of New York's Gilded Age perfectly.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Siegel said that the idea came to him on his morning train rides to work in Manhattan alongside the Hudson.
Of the appeal of mermaids, Siegel said "... a song that we can't resist, even though we know it's going to pull us down — anyone who's lived a bit on this planet knows mermaids. Some people can be mermaids to us. We can be mermaids to others, sometimes. And chemical siren-songs too, like crack, or smack, or alcohol, even coffee (not all mermaids spell disaster for us sailors, of course)."
In the tradition of a 19th-century novel, Siegel began serializing "Sailor Twain" in 2010 ahead of book publication. You can read the opening chapters, along with Siegel's commentary, at http://sailortwain.com/chapters/.
"Sailor Twain" is one of those books that compelled me to turn back to the first page as soon as I read "The End." It does include some nudity (and not just the mermaid's bare breasts) and a few sex scenes. I'd recommend "Sailor Twain" for older teens and adults.
Sara Latta is a children's science writer and author of 16 books. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews at http://www.saralatta.com.