Book Review : Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
Sirena is a mermaid and her strongest wish is to be loved by a man. Unwittingly Sirena and her sisters use their siren’s song to lure a ship of men to their island not realizing that many of the men will die because they don’t know how to swim. The survivors abhor the mermaids as monsters believing the sirens want to lure sailors to a watery grave. Part of the mermaid curse is that they must remain mortal until they are loved by a man.
Knowing she cannot be the cause of death for men, Sirena swims to Lemnos, a deserted island. While there, she witnesses a ship abandoning a single man. Overcoming her fear, Sirena cautiously approaches the man to find that he is wounded. She cannot allow this beautiful, mortal man to die, and so knowing she may be incurring the wrath of Hera, she works to save his life. As this man, Philoctetes, recovers he gently persuades Sirena into a friendship and they develop a love for one another. Greece has not fully forgotten Philoctetes and returns ten years later to persuade him to return to fight in their battle with Troy. Sirena and Philoctetes are tested in their courage and understanding of love.
Adult Point of View
Sirena came as a recommendation to us from a librarian, and it was not what I was expecting. The writing style is quite simplistic, but the content is rather mature.
On the positive side, Napoli has taken a 10 year period from the fabled Philoctetes’ life, which has no stories associated with it, and has fleshed out a plausible explanation. She also is familiar with Greek deity and seems to have stayed true to their personalities. Napoli has alternate explanations for hybrid monsters like the Minotaur that are equally plausible.
On the negative side, the story line moves beyond sensual to being sexual, which doesn’t feel appropriate for the intended young audience.
For example here are a few quotes that illustrate the nature of the novel.
“…picking lilies and tying them with bunches of seaweed to their tails in an effort to cover all but their lovely brown breasts.” p 5
“I imagine the males depositing packets of sperm in the females with their hand-like tentacles in an orgy of relief.” p 48
She also talks about rapes, mating of people and creatures and Philoctetes coupling with Sirena. It seemed like too much information.
Sirena makes the mistake that some women and many young women make, which is, that sex is love. I find that to be an alarming model for our young women to emulate.
We were not enchanted by this siren’s song.
2 out of 5 stars
– the Mother
Teen Point of View
(I am actually rather horrified that she read it prior to me, and this is why we are doing this website to help other parents. My consolation is that I think specifics in the content went over her innocent little head. Please remember it had been recommended by someone whose opinion we thought we could trust.)
She has refused to review this book with an explanation that it was weird and definitely no one younger than her should EVER be reading it. She is about 14.
– the Daughter