In 2013 there was a debate in the Internet world about something very important. Were mermaids replacing vampires in the world of young adult literature? This was apparently very important because (at my last count) thirteen different online news blogs reported it, including The Wire, Book Riot, Huffington Post, and ABC News.
You see, ten years ago, in 2005, Stephanie Meyers revived the love of vampires with her Twilight series. After her books became a phenomenal success, there were SO MANY vampires books in the wake. The glut of them was so amazing that editors and agents are now posting on their wish lists "no vampires, please." When teenagers read all the vampire books they could handle they were ready for something new. Well, mermaids weren't the first offering. No, next up were angels. Mostly dark, brooding ones. Girls were still wanting hot guys with complicated morals. When that wore itself out, the next trend was werewolves. Same reason. Who doesn't want t read about a hot guy who can barely stay in his own skin? And the other thing about these vampires, dark angels, and werewolves? There was always some strong gal who could bring out the best in them - change them.
That leads to the next trend - probably the oddest: zombies. If you're looking for a story about how a girl changes a guy for the better, there's simply nothing better than her bringing him literally back to life.
Just two years ago everyone insisted that mermaids would be next. But why? How? Mermaid novels are pretty much bound to be about girls, not hot, brooding guys. The person doing the changing back and forth from human to paranormal creature is the girl, not the guy, and more often than not, she's doing it for a guy. 18 mermaid novels were published that year (and I'm sure that's not counting indie published titles - those numbers never do). One article heatedly argued that mermaids could never replace vampires because of the lack of sexuality, and because mermaids aren't scary.
Here's what I think. The sudden rise in mermaid books doesn't have anything to do with girls wanting to read about hot guys at all. Quite the opposite. Young women fantasy readers realized that being an anchor for a complicated guy wasn't enough anymore. Instead, they wanted to read about strong, independent young women having their own adventures and finding their own way. While there are a lot of mermaid romances (even with mermen in them), a large number of mermaid stories stay focused on a single female lead or a community of female mermaids/sirens.
One list on Goodreads has 117 mermaid themed books on it (including Cry of the Sea). Way more than 18. A lot of those original 18 books led to series, and there's been a slew of other titles since. (I didn't know mermaids were trending when my book came out in early 2014. I thought it was kind of funny to be in a trend when I'd started writing that book in 2000, five years before the paranormal YA phenomenon even began). Many are about girls who discover that they are princesses of an underwater kingdom. Quite a few are Little Mermaid knock-offs about a mermaid wishing to be human. Some are scary and about sirens luring people to their deaths. Some are about vampire mermaids. I have yet to read one of those, but I admire the irony.
Thought I'd point out that trending right alongside mermaids are witch books and fresh, feminist adaptations of fairy tales. Those are usually girl-centric stories too.
I don't know how long this mermaid book thing will last, but I know that mermaid fandoms are growing by leaps and bounds. I'm a member of eight different merfolk fan groups on Facebook, and one of them has 9,000 members. That's a lot of mermaid pictures and cosplay. In that group, several of us are authors, and I know there are two more mermaid books from them coming out before Christmas.
So, enjoy it while it lasts. Stories for every taste as long as you don't mind a big fish tail being part of the plot. And if you're looking for a mermaid story that is completely different from all the rest, check out Cry of the Sea. From what I've seen, it is the only one where the main character is human and never will be a mermaid, and the mermaids themselves are portrayed as what they might be like if they were ever discovered to be real. Feel free to leave a comment below.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.