Plain Jane And The Mermaid by Vera Brosgol

I love pretty much everything First Second Books publishes. My relationship with them started with the excellent Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel, and while I haven’t had the time to cover as many of their books as I’d honestly like to, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review their latest title that also features an alluring mermaid.

Interestingly, before I could dive (ha) into this latest digital ARC, my favorite bookstore mentioned that they’d be having Vera Brosgol in to sign copies one Wednesday morning. Since I’d been planning to go lead an orchestra rehearsal afterwards anyway, I figured I’d stop by, if the digital read turned out to be good enough to warrant buying a physical copy. So I cracked open the ARC… and was full out sobbing by page 37.

So! Off to People’s Book I went the next morning, to buy a copy and get it signed and hopefully not make too much of a fool of myself in front of the author. Who is an absolute delight, btw! I loved the experience so much, I wrote about it during the bookstore’s Zine-Making Workshop a few nights later. Ms Brosgol and I chatted and laughed, and I cried a little bit, and I taught her how to mew, thanks to lessons from my Gen Alpha thirteen year-old. It was one of the loveliest author meetings I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot since I’ve genuinely had so many lovely author meetings in my lifetime.

What I wish I had more of, tho, is time to read! It took me a little while to actually be able to sit down and read the (signed) book, but I was so glad I’d bought it, because physical copies of graphic novels are so far superior to digital, ime. And oh, what a lovely, tender fable of learning to see your own value past the expectations society has of you! In Jane’s case, the expectations revolve around her physical attractiveness as a woman, a lesson that’s echoed and refracted in several different ways throughout the narrative.

As Plain Jane And The Mermaid begins, Jane is learning that the recent death of her parents is about to leave her homeless, as she cannot inherit their estate and fortune due to being an unmarried woman. Thus she decides to take her fate into her own hands and propose marriage to handsome Peter, the fisherman’s son she’s long been crushing on. He hates working under his fisherman father’s abusive thumb, so getting married should be a win-win. When he’s kidnapped by a mermaid, however, Jane will have to risk everything in order to retrieve him.

Filled with unexpected plot twists and deeply sympathetic character portrayals — along with a highly realistic acknowledgment of the many perils of the sea — this is a terrific, tender and often hilarious book about finding your own happiness and understanding that character is far, far more important than superficial attractiveness (a lesson I keep trying to reinforce to myself as I wean my brain from a very hot guy I have no business liking given the absolutely shocking number of red flags he displays. In my defense, I only noticed how astonishingly hot he was after he did a brave and wonderful thing with no thought of reward, and I only discovered all the many and myriad red flags afterwards. Help me. Ahem.)

Jane’s parents are shockingly cruel to her in a manner that will unfortunately resonate with far too many young women. Fortunately, Jane is smart and steadfast and compassionate and courageous. Will that be enough, however, when she faces a mermaid who would rather kill than give up her human prize?

This extremely charming graphic novel flows beautifully, likely due to Ms Brosgol’s background in animation. Alec Longstreth’s colors are absolutely gorgeous, and the Notes section in the back provides so much valuable insight into the creation process of this book. I also bought a copy of Ms Brosgol’s prior work, Anya’s Ghost, and got it signed, tho still need to find that elusive time I need to read it! I can’t wait tho, because this graphic novel itself was so great, and Vera herself so delightful, that I’ve become a huge fan of both.

Plain Jane And The Mermaid by Vera Brosgol was published May 7 2024 by First Second Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including

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