Lucy Strange combines historical fiction with mysterious folklore in this tale of a young mill worker’s encounter with a mermaid. The language is sparse and compelling and immediately seizes the reader’s attention with its powerful description of the titular mermaid, not the sort of mermaid that sits on a rock but rather ‘a monster – half-human, half-fish’ with ‘teeth like a pike and hands like a frog’. But is the mermaid a monster, or a creature as trapped and exploited as the mill workers. As Bess tells her story of a move from London workhouse to northern cotton mill after the death of her mother, the reader will realise that the true monsters are the adults who run the mill and treat their young workers with violence and cruelty.
Following her mother’s death, caused by tending a sick, homeless child, Bess sees kindness as a weakness and determines to have a heart of stone and help only herself. Brave, cheerful Dot, a fellow mill girl, breaks through this hard shell to Bess’s kind, fearless heart and the two girls escape the mill, release the mermaid from her millpond prison and end the book facing a future that is uncertain, but free.
Lucy Strange’s skilful storytelling and Pam Smy’s atmospheric illustrations combine to create a gripping story of courage, kindness, and friendship full of supernatural overtones and with a convincing Industrial Revolution setting. This is a Barrington Stoke title, presented with the characteristic dyslexia-friendly features that make this dark, eerie tale of hope and freedom accessible to young readers.