Is this book appropriate for a young reader?
I get this question a lot. The answer is “it depends.” How young is the reader? How advanced are they in reading? When I was twelve, I read the Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, and Game of Thrones series, even though my parents wouldn’t let me read Gossip Girl, because they feared it was too sexualized. There is violence and death in this book, and references (though no direct or graphic depictions) towards sexual and physical abuse. However, there are no sexual scenes or impolite language. The main character of the story is thirteen. I hope this helps you decide if the reader you’re thinking of will be able to grapple with the themes of the story. I would say give kids a chance; they will definitely surprise you.
Would a boy find this book interesting? I wanted to get it for a nephew/grandchild/friend, etc.
I also get this question a lot! The answer is there has been a lot of evidence that when a main character of a series is a boy, the series is a “kids series.” However, when the main character is a girl, the series is a “girls series.” Is the main character a girl? Yes. Are other characters women? Yes. Are there also male characters? Also yes! I can’t say if a boy or nonbinary person would like this book because that lumps people into a large category based on gender, which is actually what this book tries to subvert. Do they like action adventure? Do they like mysteries? Fantasy? Historical fiction? If yes, then they might. Go ahead an give it to them, and let’s change the way we socialize children in traditional gender roles.
What is a twisted fairytale?
Fairytale seems something of a derogatory word these days. “Stop thinking in fairytales” or “grow up, life’s not a fairytale.” Original fairytales, if you read books like the Brothers Grimm, were no cakewalk. They often ended in death of the villain, or gruesome mutilations (missing toes, fingers, arms, heels, ears, eyes). Nowadays, a subgenre of fantasy is “twisting” a fairytale, like retelling Cinderella from a new point of view such as Gail Carson Levine did in Ella Enchanted, which was the first twisted fairytale I ever read.
Twisted fairytales often blend multiple fairytales or well known stories together to mix in interesting and new ways, leaving the reader believing they know what will happen, only to be surprised. Other great examples (and my favorites) include Mercedes Lackey's The Fairy Godmother, Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, and (in some of his books) Sir Terry Prachett’s Discworld.
Twisted fairytales can also merge with well-known myths, like sirens luring men to their deaths by singing. Other great examples of using retelling or twisting of myths include Neil Gaiman’s American Gods & Anansi Boys, Madeline Miller’s Circe & Song of Achilles, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale.
How do I pronounce….
Luckily, I had this same annoyance as a reader my whole life. Included in the back of the book (hard copy and kindle) is a Glossary of terms and pronunciation of names. It is written in my own silly emphasis, not official phonetics, in the way I learned to pronounce them.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I saw the idea of a writing prompt about violence against women getting a second chance by the fae, and a comic about Death giving second chances to the wronged, and it sort of developed from there based on slaving ships, women on the water, and the time period I began to look at (during the 1700-1800 slave trade). Nailing down the specifics after that became easy.
Why is it only women who become sirens?
Because throughout history and all over the world women have consistently been the victims of violence against them, lacked legal authority to own property or escape abuse, and often deemed hysterical and ignored when they tried to speak. The idea of giving women powerful voices - siren voices - was a link that was too strong for me to ignore.
If a trans person drowned, would they get to wake up as a siren?
If a woman drowns in violence against her, and she is caught in time by a siren, then she will wake as a siren. That includes trans women because they are women, and because there is a great deal of violence enacted against transgender kids. Please consider learning more and donating to the Trevor Project for LGBT youth mental health resources in the event of domestic violence.
Why is there not more romance in the book?
Because the main character is thirteen. When I was thirteen I definitely didn’t think seriously about romance. I was busy horseback riding and playing soccer, writing stories, collecting journals I wouldn’t write in, picking out new softball bats, going to summer camp, and just generally living my life. I don’t want thirteen year olds - or anyone - to think that in order for a story - or for a life - to be interesting, there has to be romance. There are characters in love in this story, and they are in a subplot of the story, but it isn’t the focus. I have a very good asexual friend who has a wonderful and full life, and I value our friendship, and I’m happy to write stories without romance being the point.
Why is it set in the Caribbean? Why not another part of the world?
I definitely don’t believe that there are only sirens in the Caribbean. In the epigraph from The Odyssey Homer references sirens that would be in the Mediterranean. More than that, Emiko is from Japan! However, I picked the Caribbean because it is the site of an extraordinary amount of violence and rampant genocide from slaving ships and the slaughter of Latin America and the First Peoples. It also meant that it was a way to include a lot of different cultures in one family, and I wanted to give my characters a great deal of diversity and experience, and as a way to highlight and educate young people about some historical events they may not have heard of.
How did you come up with the backstories of all of the sirens?
Because of the many cultures around the Caribbean, I read a lot about the colonization, conquest, and devastation by the Spanish conquistadors, the American colonies, and the transatlantic slave trade. The ones that particularly drew me were both Coro - and the Taino Genocide - and Suni, and the obliteration of their peoples and cultures. I like to think one of them survived, just to remember all those who had no one left to remember them.