With all of the YA paranormal romances out there, it’s difficult to find something that deals with subjects other than “Who will be my true love?” Lost Voices, by Sarah Porter, is one of those books that tells a different story: that of a young girl who transforms into a mermaid, and of how she must not only learn how to navigate her way through the complicated dynamics of her new-found tribe, but who also must come to terms with what she now is and learn how to control the new abilities that come with it.
Luce is a fourteen-year-old orphan who lives a lonely existence with her alcoholic uncle in an isolated Alaskan fishing village. Luce is on the receiving end of her uncle’s resentment toward her dead father, and it comes to a head one horrible night when her uncle tries to force himself on her and leaves her for dead on a cliff overlooking the sea. Luce expects to die, but something wonderful happens: she feels herself becoming more fluid, and it soon dawns on her that she is swimming in water. When she encounters another young girl in the water, she realizes what she has become: a mermaid. The other girl introduces Luce to more like them: a tribe of mermaids ruled over by a beautiful, mercurial young queen by the name of Catarina. At first, Luce finds herself on the inner edges of the tribe, but she forms a few friendships as time passes, including a careful one with Catarina.
The rules of the tribe are clear: the mermaids are not allowed to break the timakh. They are to save members of their tribe if they are in danger, they are to keep out of sight of humans, and if any human sees them or hears their song, that human must die. Luce finds these rules easy to follow, but it’s the desire to lure ships to their doom with mermaid song that bothers her. As the other mermaids seem to have forgotten the people they used to be in their human lives, Luce hasn’t forgotten what it means to be kind and compassionate, which conflict with her obligation to follow the timakh. Luce also begins to see that she has a greater ability with mermaid song than Catarina, and as she secretly works to harness it and expand it.
As new mermaids join the tribe, Luce begins to see Catarina’s power beginning to fail, especially with the arrival of mermaid called Anais, who seeks to take Catarina’s position and become queen of the tribe herself. As the tribe becomes more divided, Luce must figure out where her loyalties lie… and must save herself from the danger that threatens.
Lost Voices examines the power structure of cliques and the conflicts between an individual’s loyalties to their group and doing the right thing. As Anais becomes more popular and Catarina’s power starts to wane, Luce finds her loyalties divided. She remains faithful to Catarina, who proved to be a good friend to her even as the other mermaids abandon her and gravitate to Anais, even though Anais is dangerous. Even though Luce is caught up within the conflicts of the group, her ability to remain true to herself keeps her from getting caught up in what Anais has planned.
Lost Voices is the first book in a trilogy in YA paranormal that is a coming-of-age story as well as one that is a fairy tale. Porter’s prose is rich and evocative, yet not one word is wasted. While the novel covers some heavy topics, it also offers the reader an escape into an underwater world that they’re reluctant to leave.