Twelve-year-old Neen Marrey thinks it's possible that her great-grandmother might have been a wild-eyed merrow, a sort of mermaid or "glamorous fish," and so maybe her own Mam might not have abandoned her when her fisherman Pa drowned, but instead "just gone home to her people under the sea." Auntie Ushag is "as touchy as a slug" about her niece's theories. But the glowering, purse-lipped woman has become quite the "spit hag" of late, making Neen feel that much more alone in the world. The villagers whisper about how wrong it is for Auntie to keep the girl isolated in such a "wild and shattered place" on the shore: "I would have given just about anything to have a friend who wasn't a cow," Neen muses.

Merrow, Australian author Ananda Braxton-Smith's debut novel, is set on the island of Carrick (actually the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, according to the author's note), a place a-swirl with old stories of "sprites and half-beings and what-nots." Despite what Ushag tells her, Neen may be one of those cursed and feared half-beings, too. Why else would she sometimes grow red, itchy scales on her skin? Why else would her soul be so homesick? Neen finally wears her taciturn Auntie down until the stories of her sister, Neen's mother, spill out. But are they true stories? What is a true story, anyway? "What I needed was my own, my very own story," thinks Neen. Merrow is like the tide pools it describes in such gorgeous detail, every crevice offers a new surprise. A salty, exquisitely written exploration of identity. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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