ARC REVIEW: “Coral” by Sara Ella

Coral

Title: Coral
Author: Sara Ella
Pages: 384

Release Date: November 12 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy / Realistic Fiction
Goodreads Rating:  3.71 (of 197 ratings)

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Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

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review

Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book. 

Coral, Coral, Coral. I was confused after the first five pages of this book, which is never a good sign. As I’m well-known to do, I pushed through especially because I wanted to see how mental health was discussed in a book about mermaids. I’m a die-hard fan of mental health books, we all know this. And thank you YA and your vocal fandoms for demanding more mental health discussions in books and more characters with mental illness. A beautiful culmination of this demand for diversity is not just the typical contemporary novel exploring a protagonist’s battle with depression, but fantasy and scifi and horror books that star empowered heroes who just so happen to have depression.*

*this being one general of many great specific examples

In Coral, titular character Coral is a mermaid who fears showing symptoms of the Disease, an illness that starts with showing emotions (something mermaids cannot do) and ends with Red Tide.

📌 Though a little heavy-handed, Sara Ella makes observant commentary on mental health stigma through her extended metaphor of “the Disease.” Mermaids are shamed for showing emotions, and told to use the words “I’m fine” until, Coral is reassured, they will believe they really are. Those who suffer from the Disease are ignored and erased from society as undesirables. I was a bit saddened at the fact that in this world, mermen cannot have the Disease, which gave the impression men cannot suffer from anxiety/depression like women do.

📌 Coral’s underwater world was rich with its own culture. I think this became an asset as well as a drawback to the book. I was invested in figuring out what Red Tide was, in how mer-people manage emotions, etc. But this was only one third of a three-narrative story. The world-building suffered to the point that I didn’t understand certain passages. Later on, I was plain confused. The fantastic elements of Coral’s world did not merge comfortably with Merrick and Brooke’s realistic universes.

Brooke and Merrick carried the other two POVs in this book. One thing that threw me off from the start was that only Brooke’s chapters were in first person. I very rarely see this in books (I can’t name one off the top of my head, to be honest) and I don’t personally find it enjoyable.

📌 Brooke was antagonistic and frustrating at the beginning. I understood why, since she’s in a treatment program and she’s distrustful of others. But I also didn’t know her. And this made her tough to care for. Why was she in the center? Where was her family? The author withheld this basic information for a long time because it would give away the plot twist … which I still guessed easily. Once I got more info about Brooke, I warmed up to her and became invested in her journey.

📌 I seesaw on mental health treatment plans in books. I’m either “this doctor is too mean!” or “this doctor is way too nice!” In reality, there’s no perfect plan so whatever, my thoughts are all subjective anyway. I did think Brooke landed in an idealistic treatment facility, where she was given space when she wanted space and the exact food she wanted, and she even got strings pulled to get into university. But. Sometimes you need a mental health book where things go right for a change. I’m not mad at this. Sara Ella did a great job at showing that there are people out there who want to help, and hear what you need. There does need to be a trigger warning on this book (which there is) for suicide and suicidal idealization because both are very present.

I almost don’t know what to say about Merrick. He gets his moment of limelight near the end of the book, but until then, he does more work moving other characters’ stories along. Sometimes I skimmed his chapters, just looking for scenes with his younger sister Amaya. Her story is a sad reality today.

My biggest wish for this book would have been to make Coral’s story its own book, and then Brooke and Merrick and Amaya’s another. The mermaid world was unique and creative, but fell flat when Coral journeyed into the human world and suddenly started using cell phones and going to high school and attending group therapy. It felt rushed, and almost like a school assignment, not a mythical being come to life. (Which, okay, I know, but still.) And Brooke/Merrick/Amaya’s world would have been all the richer with the focus on loss, and suicide/mental health instead of the confusion about where mermaids fit in.

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rating: Merida. I had trouble finishing this book. For the above reasons, I think a separation of the fantasy and contemporary would have made this book more enjoyable for me. The attempts to hide details to keep the “big reveal” a secret was also very frustrating. 
representation:
main character with synesthesia (I think), main character with depression/anxiety
content warnings: death of a principle character, death of a side character, suicide, suicide attempt, suicidal idealization, child suicide, kidnapping, anxious thoughts, parent abandonment 
read this if you: like books with mental health topics, like books with different approaches to mental health

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What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

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10 thoughts on “ARC REVIEW: “Coral” by Sara Ella

  1. Great review, Sha! It’s sad to hear you had trouble finishing this one since it dealt with a topic dear to you! I hope that you can discover more books out there with mental health rep ❤
    Might I recommend The Grief Keeper (deals with grief and depression) and The Storm Crow (MC struggles with depression)

    Liked by 1 person

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