________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 35. . . .May 9, 2014


Sink or Swim. (Whatever After, #3).

Sarah Mlynowski.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2013.
165 pp., hardcover & EBK, $16.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-545-41569-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-545-54027-8 (EBK).

Subject Headings:
Fairy tales.
Magic mirrors-Juvenile fiction.
Mermaids-Juvenile fiction.
Brothers and sisters-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Janet Eastwood.

*** /4



“Ooooooooh!” I hear a third time. I look around in the moonlight and eventually see that the sound is coming from a person. From Lana. She’s lying on the sand.

As I try to figure out what’s going on, she starts to flop from side to side. Her tail starts to quiver. And then as I watch, her tail splits right down the middle into two.


I have seen a lot of crazy things in fairy tale worlds. But I have never seen anything like this.

I step over the divider and pound on Jonah’s balcony door. “Wake up!” I yell. “We have to help her!”

When I turn back to Lana, the green in her legs is slowly fading to the same light colour of her skin. Her hair is the same. Her upper body is the same. But now she has legs. LEGS!

And green bikini bottoms.

“What’s up?” Jonah asks, opening his balcony door.

“That’s what’s up!” I say, pointing to Lana. “She made the deal with the sea witch! Why would she do that when I told her not to?” I stomp my right foot. I am mad. So very mad.


Abby, age 10, and her fun-loving brother Jonah, age seven, have been sucked through the magic mirror in their house and into another fairy tale. This time, it’s Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and Abby is determined to break her own rules and change the story because, unlike Jonah, she knows that the real story doesn’t have a happy ending.

     Abby’s problems, however, include a fear of water, which makes finding the Little Mermaid difficult, a royal family who insist that there is no such thing as a mermaid, a brother who would rather play in the palace than help her, and a mermaid named Lana who is so sure that she loves the prince and things will work out that she sacrifices her tail and tongue for legs.

     Abby has to balance the need to venture into the ocean (her fear and her brother’s enthusiasm) with water safety, avoid cranky palace servants, get help from the friendly cook (whose great-great-grandmother talked with a mermaid), oh, and save Lana from dying when the prince turns out to be more concerned with appearances than with character or communication. And this means venturing into the ocean and negotiating with the sea witch who just happens to hate Lana’s royal father.

     The most fascinating addition this story adds to the Little Mermaid tale is the love of literacy developed by Lana. Since paper dissolves and ink diffuses underwater, mermaids and other ocean denizens are illiterate. After Lana loses her voice, she learns to read and write so that she and her prince can communicate. This, fortunately, leads to the discovery that the prince isn’t up to par (“What does Lana need to read and write for? She’s a princess. She just needs to smile, dance, and be beautiful”) – in fact, he’s revoltingly shallow. Abby initially argues that Lana should stay in the ocean and learn to be happy with what she has, but she comes to see that Lana’s actions took an immense amount of courage. Ultimately choosing to stay on land, Lana calls writing her “second voice” and decides to write books about the underwater world ruled by her father and sisters with whom she is reunited.

     The “romance” between the 15-year-old little mermaid and the beach-boy prince is entirely exasperating to Abby whose reactions are both understandable and amusing. Lana insists that she loves the prince, despite never having talked with him. The prince is entirely focused on her good looks – and then on the appalling fact that she has a tail. He doesn’t develop as a character; but then, the story isn’t about him.

     The pacing is quick, and the adventure takes place over approximately four days. As Lana grows beyond her infatuation, Jonah becomes (minimally) more dependable, and Abby sets aside her frustration with Lana, Jonah, and the prince to work towards an ending that doesn’t involve somebody dying. The prince and most of the humans remain extremely flat characters, and most of the water-dwelling characters come in only in the last thirty-five pages, which isn’t much space for development. The romance between the sea witch and the Sea King feels a little contrived, although their backstory functions well to explain the witch’s latent hostility toward the royal mermaid family and allows Lana a happy ending.

     Abby’s voice, her relationship with Jonah, and the overall tone of the story fit neatly into the “Whatever After” series and leave readers curious as to how the next fairy tale will be changed.


Janet Eastwood is a student in the Master of Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.