Sirena, the narrator of Donna Jo Napoli's young adult book "Sirena", longs for what her sisters want - immortality, and she is told that the only way to obtain it is by loving a man and having him love her in return. Unfortunately Sirena carries a terrible curse. Half fish and half human, she and her mermaid sisters are oddities to humans and fish alike, not fitting well in either world. What's more is as a siren, her beautiful voice can captivate and enchant a man forever, but since her and her sisters live within the rocky crags near Crete, her voice also spells their doom. Sadly, in Sirena's world, most of the silly sea-faring humans are unable to swim, so even if their boat crashes near a hospitable island, they drown in the salty waters, their last vision of land and the beautiful creatures that lured them there.
Unhappy with her lot in life, Sirena strikes out on her own one day and happens upon an injured young human male being left by his shipmates on the deserted island of Lesbos. Bitten by a sea serpent, the man is dying and Sirena nurses him back to life, and falls in love with the process. This is a tragic tale of love, and the reader knows that their love cannot last forever, however it is that tragic love that tugs at our inner longings to find love in unexpected places and hope that all will turn out for our heroine in the end, though perhaps not in the way she wishes.
Napoli's writes in the present tense, which at first can be disarming, but with the tense choice, she immerses the reader in the tumult and beauty of the sea. One can feel every squeak of the passing porpoise and every prickle of the starfish as Sirena makes necklaces to make herself beautiful. The novel is lush with feeling, imagery and Greek mythology, and the reader will not only enjoy the story, but will learn a lot about Hera, Heracles, and the creatures that inhabited the ancient Grecian ocean in the process.
Being a fan and student of mythology in all its forms, I enjoyed this novel immensely. But hopefully books such as this one will inspire readers to seek out the timeless tales such as "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" and will inspire a new generation of Classicists in order to keep that part of our history alive...and swimming.