Mermaid in Chelsea Creek


Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachusetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they're somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic. Could Sophie Swankowski be ...
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Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

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Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachusetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they're somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic. Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cult memoirist and adult fiction author Tea (Valencia) makes her YA debut with a gripping, though bleakly imagined fantasy. Sophie Swankowski drifts along in the still and depressing backwater of Chelsea, Mass., numbing her pain by holding her breath by the creek until she passes out, along with her friend Ella. This becomes a dangerous but seductive game. In one such reverie, teetering between death and unconsciousness, Sophie awakens to see a mermaid, "unreal but unmistakable." After Sophie's mother learns of her daughter's habits, she forces Sophie to work for her scary, mean grandmother in the local dump. A mysterious cast of characters leads Sophie on a bizarre and enchanting quest to uncover the truth about her identity. Even through the veil of magical realism, the world of Sophie's adolescence remains ugly, hopeless, and suffocating, a mood that's amplified by Polan's b&w line drawings. Still, readers will be impelled to explore this tangled web of human beings and beasts while awaiting Sophie's redemption, whatever form it may take. Ages 12–up. (May)
From the Publisher

Daily Candy names Mermaid in Chelsea Creek in their "14 New Books that Save Brain Cells this Summer"

"I couldn't keep still when I was reading Mermaid In Chelsea Creek. I kept standing up to pace around because I was so excited by the book and then I'd hurry back to my chair so I hadn't missed anything. The novel has everything terrific about Michelle Tea, with the grit and the wit and the girls in trouble loving each other fierce and true, and then it has all the juice of a terrific fantasy novel, with the magic and the creatures and the otherworldly sense of something lurking underneath each artifact of our ordinary lives. I can't keep still to write a blurb about it. Just read the thing, read it now." —Daniel Handler

"A radiant hybrid of piercing realism, creeping horror, and heartbreaking fantasy--but fantasy with dirt in its hair and scabs on its knees. Tea is an uncommon talent doing uncommon things and her voice tickles you, slaps you, whatever it takes to wake your ass up." —Daniel Kraus, author of Rotters

"Tea's novel is a refreshing breath of air in the world of YA, equal parts eerie, heartbreaking, and fantastical."—ZYZZYVA

"Each line carries substantive heft, emblematic of extensive research on Polish mythology, grounded by the gritty, immigrant haven that is Chelsea, Massachusetts."—SF Weekly

" The story itself braids threads of ancient myths and lore with today's world full of mixed emotions and environmental neglect. It blurs the line between fact and fiction gracefully, thereby making the impossible seem possible."—Insatiable Readers

"Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is a triumph in its own right, a stand-alone treat."—San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Tea populated her foray into the genre with head-nods to outsider fantasy, Here, pigeons aren’t marginalized—they’re bearers of wisdom; and mermaids are surly and complex, not preening or diabolical." —Buzzfeed

"I started reading Michelle Tea's Mermaid in Chelsea Creek on the subway this morning and was instantly hooked... can't wait to get back to it."—Emily Temple, Flavorwire Literary Editor

"If you want to read a really original book with gutsy characters, I strongly, sweary recommend you find this book."—Sparknotes

"There’s a lot of heavy wisdom in this book, alongside the beauty and the grunge…And there’s a lot of humor too—it wouldn’t be Michelle Tea if you didn’t laugh out loud at her spot-on cultural observations, her astute sarcasm at the banalities that infiltrate our gorgeous world."—Lamda Literary

"A fun read... a classic fairytale." —San Francisco Book Review

"It’s as if Chelsea is Narnia, with talking animals, mind readers, and a heroine who, instead of finding a wardrobe, makes herself pass out with her best friend, Ella."—The Boston Globe

“Lonesomely populating a chasm in books for young readers where the magic comes from the blessed gutter.” —The Globe and Mail

"Sophie Swankowski is the young-adult protagonist we've all been waiting for."
-Bitch Magazine

"Tea's work resists categorization, and like all surprising vanguard literature, it's the news — a hunk of lyric information that coolly, then frantically, describes the car wreck of her generation and everything that surrounds it." — Eileen Myles, The Nation

School Library Journal
Gr 8–10—Sophie Swankowski is a poor girl living in the slums of Chelsea, Massachusetts, with her single, overworked mother. The summer before ninth grade, she and her best friend, Ella, spend their days playing the "passing-out game," hyperventilating until they faint and achieve a seconds-long, dreamlike state. But one day, Sophie's blackout lasts almost an hour. She has a vision of a grimy, foreign mermaid who tells her that she is special-in fact, she is the child the old stories spoke of, the one who will save humanity from sadness. With the help of pigeons and a few good witches, Chelsea must learn how to tap into and control her power. She must also figure out how to shield herself from the evil witch, who just happens to be her grandmother. This tale of magic and self-discovery is set in a gritty, urban underbelly. The language contains a fair amount of cussing, and the scenes depict a hardscrabble, demoralized existence, yet the protagonist comes across as a naive character who, despite growing up in such tough surroundings, readily accepts the phenomena that begin to occur in her life. Unfortunately, readers may not be as accepting, and the meandering plot will not encourage them to continue with the narrative. This one will have difficulty finding an audience.—Heather E. Miller Cover, Homewood Public Library, AL
Kirkus Reviews
An avant-garde author's fantasy debut is exquisitely written but draining in its unrelenting ugliness. Thirteen-year-old Sophie Swankowski dreams of leaving behind working-class poverty in dreary Chelsea, Mass., but for now seeks relief by deliberately inducing fainting spells. When her overstressed single mother finds out, Sophie is exiled for the summer to her grandmother's business, the town dump. That's when things start to get strange: A foulmouthed, hard-nosed mermaid appears in her dreams. A flock of pigeons falls in love with her. And a mysterious glass artist reveals that Sophie is destined to become an empathetic messiah, purifying humanity of hatred and despair. Tea's prose is lush and hallucinatory, occasionally producing scenes of gorgeous wonder and tenderness, but mostly it serves to depict the rotten, filthy, toxic nastiness of Chelsea and its denizens. All the major characters--saintly, villainous or trapped in between--are female; the few men are both repulsive and ineffectual. Nearly half the narrative is a string of episodes in which the third-person perspective switches from character to character rapidly, evoking disgust and contempt rather than horror or pity. (The lumpy pen-and-ink illustrations don't help.) The story only takes flight as Sophie finally learns more about her heritage (with fascinating allusions to Eastern European legends), while growing in compassion and magical strength--but the putrid corruption around her offers no possibilities for cathartic triumph or healing, just the ambiguous hope of escape. The ornate literary style and grim themes make this read more like a story about adolescence for adults than one aimed at actual teens. (Magical realism. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781938073953
  • Publisher: McSweeney's Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 625,478
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Tea is the author of 4 ½ memoirs, 1 ½ novels and a collection of poetry. Her memoir Valencia is an underground classic and is currently being made into a feature film by 21 different filmmakers. She is the founder and executive director of RADAR Productions, a literary non-profit which hosts the monthly RADAR Reading Series (voted Best Literary Series by SF Bay Guardian Readers), the infamous Sister Spit Literary Performance tours, an annual poetry chapbook contest, and the Radar LAB Writers’ Retreat in Akumal, Mexico. She is a former writer of horoscopes and a current reader of tarot cards. Jason Polan's illustrations are featured regularly in The New York Times. He lives in New York City.
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