Feminism Under the Ocean // REVIEW: The Surface Breaks by Louise O'Neill

Title: The Surface Breaks
Author: Louise O'Neill
Publication Date: May 3rd 2018
Publisher: Scholastic Inc
Part of a Series?: No, A Standalone
I Got A Copy Through: Scholastic India (THANK YOU!)
Buy Links: Amazon IN || Wordery || Foyles || Waterstones || WHSmith || Books A Million || Google Books || 
Blurb Description: Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? 
Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding. 
I am a HUGE Louise O’Neill fan. I’ve read and then re-read two of her previous books, Asking for It and Only Ever Yours over and over because they were heartbreakingly beautiful and so SO real. So, naturally, with the only other books I’ve read of hers being five star reads that I recommend to EVERYONE, I had HIGH expectations for The Surface Breaks.

Also, if you don’t think that that cover is the PRETTIEST that 2018 has produced, I can’t talk to you anymore.

I binge read through The Surface Breaks in two days, not even realising that I was coming to the end of the book THAT FAST. All in all, while it was a good book, it didn’t make me FEEL nearly as much as Only Ever Yours or Asking For It.


1.       I should begin by saying HOW MUCH I LOVE LOUISE O’NEILL’S UNFLINCHING, RAW AND HONEST style of writing. I really liked how she used brackets in this book, to contradict what mermaids, and women by extension, are told to be. It was a fun, almost sarcastic yet real way of writing and I truly enjoyed her fluid prose in this book.

2.       The last chapter in this book was ALL I WAS LIVING FOR. It was everything I wanted Gaia to say to everyone who tried to control her from page one, and I was cheering her on as she made her own decisions, faced off with the Sea King and understood what it meant to be a woman. I’ll probably pick the book up again just to read that chapter.

I had two main problems with this book:

3.       I think the biggest of the two was how much I struggled to connect with the circumstances of Gaia’s story. Both of Louise’s other books were set in a human world (although Only Ever Yours was sort of dystopian, the issues were all relevant and modern) but this one was set, for half the book, in the ocean. Gaia is obviously a mermaid and while the similarities to the human world were so similar, I just couldn’t relate Gaia and The Surface Breaks with the real, gritty and hypocritical world high school girls face like Louise portrayed in her previous books.

4.       The second was Gaia herself and ALL THE WOMEN IN THE BOOK. Although it might be real to some degree, how women let men and society dictate their every move, I HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT WOMEN ARE, IN REAL LIFE, STRONGER THAN THE ONES I JUST READ ABOUT. I get it, you know. I get that we all fall into the patriarchy’s traps from time to time, but the women in The Surface Breaks, mermaids included, were such one-dimensional characters, simply sitting back and accepting their fate when absolutely NONE of the women I know allow themselves to be treated like that all the time. I CANNOT EVEN GET STARTED ON GAIA’S HORRIBLE GRANDMOTHER WHO WAS HONESTLY, JUST LOOKING OUT FOR HERSELF AND NOT PROTECTING HER CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN AND I HATED HER.

Would I recommend this book? Definitely. It’s lighter than Asking for It and Only Ever Yours and it’s probably the Louise O’Neill YA you should start with. 
Louise O'NeillLouise O' Neill is from Clonakilty, in west Cork. After graduating with a BA in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, she went on to complete a post-grad in Fashion Buying at DIT. Having spent a year in New York working for Kate Lanphear, the senior Style Director of ELLE magazine, she returned home to Ireland to write her first novel.

She went from hanging out on set with A-list celebrities to spending most of her days in pyjamas while she writes, and has never been happier.

What are some of your favourite feminist books?
Have you read any of Louise O'Neill's books? What do you think of them?
I'd love to hear from you!

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