Tracy Deebs

Walker Books (2011)

ISBN: 9780802722317

Reviewed by Helen Merrick

I’m a great fan of YA speculative fiction, but to date have read little in what I suppose is now a whole genre of teen romance. In many ways, Deeb’s Tempest Rising could be seen as the little sister of the enormously popular paranormal romance genre. There are fantastical creatures, magic, prophecies and a fair amount of heavy-breathing fuelled longing for an inappropriate love object. There is, however a lot more to this book than either simple romance, or teen angst.

Tempest McGuire is just about to turn 17 and is dreading her birthday. For her it signals not just another step towards adulthood, but will force upon her an impossible choice: to become a mermaid, or stay human. Until now, her life has apparently been that of an average American teenager focused around school, friends, and boyfriends, complicated by the fact that her mermaid mother walked out on her family when Tempest was 10. Tempest is also not quite your stereotypical girl: her passion is for surfing, and much of her social life centres around catching waves with a group of surfer boys, including her boyfriend Mark.

Still smarting from her mother’s abandonment, Tempest is furious at the choice she faces between her world and her mother’s world of which she knows nothing beyond the note her mother left behind. As the story opens, Tempest is terrified by the changes beginning to become apparent – a flash of a mermaid tail appearing, growing gills, and the sense that some dark force under the ocean intends to claim her. To further complicate her life, a mysterious, beautiful stranger called Konea appears to challenge her feelings for Mark and her steadfast desire to remain human.

On one level, Tempest Rising traverses a familiar YA coming of age narrative. On the cusp of adulthood, Tempest faces choices about her future, agonises over her identity and chafes at her lack of power, even as she fears the consequences of being free to determine her own path. The story slowly reveals much darker depths as we get to the heart of the mystery surrounding Tempest’s place in the underwater world of mermaids, selkies and other sea creatures.

What made the book so enjoyable for me was the character of Tempest herself. She is a classic YA heroine; at times fearful and confused, even as she is courageous, resourceful and quite able to take care of herself. The fact that she is a 6-foot expert surfer adds a nice twist to the usual formula. Deeb’s tone is just right, and she tells an engrossing, charming story. The romance is central, but never overbearing and remains rather sweetly innocent, evoking that time in life when kissing is everything. While I found the ending a bit rushed and perhaps too simple a resolution, overall Tempest Rising is a lovely modern-day fairytale for teen girls (as well as those of us who remember the agonies of being a hormonal 16 year-old!)