Mermaids and Mental Health: Book Review of “Coral” by Sara Ella

I love stories about mermaids. I also love well-written stories that deal with mental health issues, so I was excited to receive an advance reader copy of Coral by Sara Ella through NetGalley. To quote the Goodreads description, “Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.”

Coral is a story told from three perspectives. Coral, the mermaid who doesn’t fit in with her family and fears she has been infected with the Disease that causes mermaids to feel human emotions. Brook, a young woman whose struggle with anxiety and depression have brought her to Fathoms, a group therapy home she doubts will help her find any point in living. And Merrick, who wants to escape his controlling father and finally reaches his breaking point when his mother disappears after his younger sister attempts suicide.

A note on mental illness in Coral

On the topic of suicide, I think it’s time to bring up trigger warnings for this book. The author says in a note at the beginning of this book that “Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.” The author approaches mental health issues in a sensitive, caring way. She did extensive research, got feedback from sensitivity readers, and used her own personal experiences when writing this book.

Even so, it can be a rough book to read. I struggle with anxiety and depression and the characters’ experiences of those issues felt very real to me. I also recognized some of my own insecurities in Coral’s terror that Merrick would wake up one morning and realize being in a relationship with her was a mistake. Other triggers, specifically suicide, are less personal because that’s not one of my struggles but I know people who struggle with this and I also knew people who lost their lives to suicide. I thought the topic was handled well in Coral but is also a very raw, up-close look at suicide from inside the mind of someone suicidal as well as from the perspectives of family members who lose a loved one.

At times the ways some of the characters longed for an end to their lives made me uncomfortable. I’m sure it was realistic for how they were feeling, which is a sign of good writing, but it’s so well-written that there were moments when I understood why death seemed like such a good idea. If someone is struggling to understand what those who are contemplating suicide (or who’ve died by suicide) might be thinking then this could be a good book to read. I’m more hesitant to recommend Coral to someone who is currently struggling with suicidal thoughts or impulses.Mermaids and Mental Health: Book Review of "Coral" by Sara Ella |

If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away

  • Call your doctor’s office.
  • Call 911 for emergency services.
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.
  • Ask a family member or friend to help you make these calls or take you to the hospital.

If you have a family member or friend who is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek help immediately from an emergency room, physician, or mental health professional. Take seriously any comments about suicide or wishing to die. Even if you do not believe your family member or friend will actually attempt suicide, the person is clearly in distress and can benefit from your help in receiving mental health treatment.

Back to the story

It seemed weird to read a story told from three perspectives that took so long to start coming together. You’re almost halfway through the book before two of the characters meet. By the end it’s revealed they were more connected than you know at first, but that didn’t make this seem less strange when I initially started reading. I don’t want to give spoilers away, but this isn’t a book you’ll want to read too fast. There’s a lot going on that you can miss if you start skim-reading, and if you miss some of these things the ending probably won’t make a whole lot of sense.

I did find the story interesting, though I also found myself getting impatient to learn how the characters fit together. There were a few times I felt frustrated with the author and felt as if she was making certain aspects of the story more vague than needed just to keep readers guessing. The final resolution for the story was a satisfying one, though (for me at least) and this frustration wasn’t enough for me to knock off a star rating. I’d give this book a 4.5, rounded up to 5 for the book review sites that don’t allow half stars.

Coral is a loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It’s been a while since I read his version of this story but I remembered enough to appreciate many of the nods to the original tale, like the descriptions of walking as if on tiny shards of glass (though I’m sure there were some references I didn’t catch). The writer and English major in me also loved how Sara Ella wove themes of losing yourself in the ocean (much as the Little Mermaid turns to sea foam), mermaids having no outlet for their emotions in tears, and feeling like you’re drowning even on dry land into the story as metaphors for mental illness.

Mermaids and Mental Health: Book Review of "Coral" by Sara Ella |

Final thoughts on this book

Coral is definitely a book I’m glad that I read. It’s so important that we as a society start having open conversations about mental health issues, and that includes writing fiction that tells the stories of those struggling with mental illness. Another Young Adult book that does this wonderfully is Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. It’s a very different kind of book than Coral, but both handled topics surrounding mental health very well.

I highly recommend Coral — as well as Eliza and Her Monsters, since I brought that one up — to anyone who wants to read about what it’s like to struggle with mental health issues. I give this book a more cautious recommendation for those currently struggling with mental illness — please read the author’s note and understand that the story deals with potentially triggering topics (especially suicide) in a way that feels very real and very raw. It can also be an encouraging book when you’re struggling and on the path toward healing. I found myself a bit teary-eyed with emotion reading the constant reminders that “you are not nothing” and that you’re not alone in your struggle.Mermaids and Mental Health: Book Review of "Coral" by Sara Ella |

Coral by Sara Ella is released on November 12. Click here to pre-order the book. If you would like to get a copy of the other book I recommended, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, click here. Please note that these are both affiliate links, which means at no extra cost to you I’ll receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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