Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
Release Date: June 12th 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistable good looks and charm on ususpecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Lies Beneath is like a sugar cookie. I like sugar cookies. They're buttery, sweet, and simply pleasant. But let's face it. A sugar cookie just isn't comparable to a chocolate chip cookie with its chiaroscuro-ish balance between the sugary dough and the bitter, rich, sweet chocolate chips. Chocolate chip cookies covers the whole flavor profile, giving it a complex taste that a sugar cookie lacks. I'll eat sugar cookies if they're the only thing around (and probably before an oatmeal raisin cookie), but they're just not as good. What exactly do I mean by that extended simile? I enjoyed Lies Beneath. It's a fun story, but lacking in substance of world building and some plot elements that could take it to the next level.
My favorite thing about Lies Beneath was the mermaid interpretation. It's more in line with traditional mermaid mythology. Think vampires with gills. Mermaids are killers, who devour humans' positive emotions rather than their blood or bodies. Culturally, mermaids resemble fish as much as humans. Your original family is a "school" that you can't leave even if you want to. You are compelled to migrate to your home waters each spring, much like salmon. It's a fascinating concept, but Lies Beneath fails to develop the mythology. How common are mermaids? We learn that humans can be changed into mermaids or born into it. How often does this happen? Why did it happen with Calder? There's question after unanswered question. It made the story feel one dimensional.
At first glance, Calder seems like a simple character, but you can read a lot into him. He's not overly nice or mean. He's not particularly empathetic. What he is definitely is stubborn. His stubbornness keeps him from killing humans for months on end, because he wants to believe that he can hold out. His stubbornness keeps him separated from his sisters who he both loves and hates, at least partly because he resents being compelled to join them every spring. His stubbornness attracts them to Lily, because she has no interest in him. His stubbornness pushes him to pursue Lily as relentlessly as a shark until she has no choice but to fall in love with him. While I can't say that I really liked Calder, I understood him. I felt bad that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His sisters literally rule his life. He's caught in an unrelenting net.
I had more trouble getting a read on Lily. She is laid out as a rebel who gets a line of poetry tattooed on her back. She wears crazy Victorian inspired outfits and spends her free time reading and writing poetry. She doesn't care what anyone thinks. She's stand-offish, but at the same time syrupy nice and deeply devoted to her family. As I'm writing this, it sounds like she's a great character. And she is, but as I was reading it, I sometimes felt like Lily was a different person depending on what was happening in the book. I especially disliked the insta-love between Calder and Lily. For all she holds herself out to be independent, she sure capitulated to his nagging, semi-braggy "you know you like me" attitude quickly. (On a slightly off note, I also disliked Calder's creepiness-tinged stalking of Lily).
The plot of Lies Beneath is like a lazy river with the occasional boulder in the middle. It moves slow and steady, but has a few dead stops. I love the concept that Calder builds a relationship with a girl to lure her father to his death, but falls in love with the girl instead. It's not a revolutionary plot line, but it's hard to go wrong with that kind of conflict. And it's handled well. There are a few surprises along the way, some good romantic moments between Calder and Lily, and a very interesting and screwed up family dynamic between Calder and his sisters. Thoroughly enjoyable. I suppose my main frustration with the book is that, while it's good, I feel like it could have been so much better with a bit more world development, less insta-love, and the addition of whatever intangible quality is necessary to make me believe the story. To forget that mermaids don't exist and that Calder and Lily aren't actually hanging out on the shore of Lake Superior. Lies Beneath almost gets there, but doesn't crest that final wave.