Coral: An Attempt to Explore Mental Health Through “The Little Mermaid” Retelling

3/5 Stars

Author: Sara Ella

Publisher/Imprint: Thomas Nelson

Edition: Paperback ARC, 369 Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: November 12, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Partially


*This review is based on a paperback ARC edition received from the publisher. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

‘True love makes life, even a broken one, worth living for.’

Sara Ella, Coral

Initial Thoughts

I requested Coral because I heard that it was supposed to be an exploration of mental health through a retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” I love fairy tale retellings, so I jumped at the chance to request it. Sara Ella’s novel does deal with heavy topics and contains suicide, contemplation of suicide, and other depressing thoughts. I appreciate that the author is thoughtful of her readers and includes a trigger warning note at the beginning of the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy Coral as much as I hoped I would.

I’ll begin with the more positive aspects of this review.

  • I thought the concept itself of this book is really interesting and might appeal to people who seek more mental health perspectives in fiction.
  • I really liked the ending of the novel. There is a special thing that happens with sea glass bottles that is really cute and romantic. It was a nice, heartwarming way to end the novel, and I’m glad that some of the characters are able to find a bit of hope.
  • I also liked the continuity of the pearl bracelet throughout the story. This special bracelet is passed on from person to person, and it was interesting to follow the path that it took.
  • Some aspects of merfolk culture are pretty interesting. (But we don’t get to spend much time in that world.)
  • There are several encouraging quotes that I really liked, and I have scattered a few of them throughout my review.
  • I definitely liked some of the hopeful themes, and I appreciated the main message the author attempted to convey: every life is worth something to someone. I think this is a message that each of us could benefit from. I’m sure we’ve all had moments when we’ve felt down and discouraged. But it is important to remember that your life means something to someone! Personally, I’m a Christian, and so I believe each of our lives means something to God. Even if you don’t believe in God, I’m sure there is someone out there who cares for you as you are. If you’re feeling lost, don’t be afraid to speak to someone about how you’re feeling!

‘Sometimes, fiction speaks truth the way nothing else can.’

Sara Ella, Coral

What Didn’t Work So Well?

I actually thought several components of the story were interesting. However, I don’t think the components work well together as a whole.


The structure of this book causes more confusion than anything else. I think the story could have been clearly structured/framed from the beginning. The three POVs appear disjointed, completely separate from each other for a long time. It is jarring to read a mermaid’s POV and then switch right over to a modern perspective. The transitions just don’t mesh well together. After 100 pages or so, two of the POVs become more connected, but the third storyline takes waayyy longer to connect with the other two. And that is when things get quite confusing because of the big “reveal” near the end. It felt as if the author was holding things back and hiding aspects of the structure for the sake of having a big “reveal” or “twist.” However, I think this tactic only caused confusion.

Withholding of Information

The author seems to be keeping things vague and mysterious intentionally, but using different pseudonyms and different names for people really makes things more confusing than they need to be. (I don’t want to spoil things, but if you read the novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.) I don’t think all the secrecy is justified. After finishing the novel, I’m still confused regarding what is real and what is not. It is especially confusing when a character dies, but a different character thinks that person died a long time ago. And it is not immediately explained as having happened that way. Arg.

When it comes to the character Brooke, the withholding of information really impacted my ability to sympathize with her; for a long time, I felt the least connected to her POV. Even after the novel ended, I felt like I needed to know more about her real family since they are hardly in the story.

Disappearance of Mermaid Elements

Coral’s transformation into a human isn’t really explained. She goes into the “Abyss” and suddenly comes out the other side human. After Coral’s transformation, the mermaid aspects of the book pretty much disappear. When reading her POV on land, it doesn’t feel as if she is a mermaid. She doesn’t act too surprised around humans, and she is generally comfortable using human technology and such. After the first segment of the novel, it does not feel like a fantasy novel, and so I’ve categorized it as “contemporary.”

Writing Style

The writing style is also difficult to get into. The writing didn’t pull me in, and I had a hard time sitting still while reading this book. In the first segment of the book, there are a lot of similes, metaphors, and other figurative language. For example, “Red Tide” is a bit confusing and not totally explained until later. The mermaid Coral also has an ability to see sounds as colors, and apparently sounds make colors, too. That, I couldn’t really wrap my head around.

Other reviewers have also noted that the writing is often made up of sentence fragments. This is true. I, too, noticed the lack of complete sentences, and I think many of the fragments could have been smoothed over into full sentences to increase writing flow. I also noticed that certain phrases become repetitive. For example, in one scene, Merrick repeatedly notices a girl’s attractive legs. In another scene, the narrator keeps remarking how Merrick really “has it bad” for a certain girl.

‘When you use your voice, whether through speech or the written word, it has a way of healing.’

Sara Ella, Coral

Final Thoughts

Overall, I appreciated what the author was attempting to do with Coral. I just don’t think it works well as a whole, mainly due to the confusing structure. If you’re really interested in mental health fiction, then you may enjoy this novel more than I did. Every novel is the result of an author’s hard work and effort. I totally understand that. These are merely my opinions. I’m sure Sara Ella put a lot of effort into this novel. It wasn’t my favorite, but I am thankful for the opportunity to read and review it. Happy reading šŸ™‚

*Content Warnings: suicide, suicide attempts, contemplation of suicide, depressing thoughts, etc.*

Next on My TBR: The Beautiful

The Beautiful Cover

Spines that Shine

4 thoughts on “Coral: An Attempt to Explore Mental Health Through “The Little Mermaid” Retelling”

  1. Great review as always (: It definitely sounds like this book gets confusing at times though. The book that I’ve just finished had a conversation where things were kept vague actually and I was convinced that it was because of some big reveal later… yet the truth behind that conversation never came out /: so I really don’t get that. It’s also a shame that the POVs didn’t come together over well /: I hope you like your next book better. I can’t wait to read The Beautiful! Although I have to as I have a lot of library books out atm so I’m focusing on them first. It’s definitely one of my most anticipated books this year though.

    Liked by 1 person

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