Celia Reynolds is the youngest in a set of triplets and the one with the least valuable power. Anne can see the future, and Jane can see the present, but all Celia can see is the past. And the past seems so insignificant — until Celia meets Lo.
Lo doesn’t know who she is. Or who she was. Once a human, she is now almost entirely a creature of the sea — a nymph, an ocean girl, a mermaid — all terms too pretty for the soulless monster she knows she’s becoming. Lo clings to shreds of her former self, fighting to remember her past, even as she’s tempted to embrace her dark immortality.
When a handsome boy named Jude falls off a pier and into the ocean, Celia and Lo work together to rescue him from the waves. The two form a friendship, but soon they find themselves competing for Jude’s affection. Lo wants more than that, though. According to the ocean girls, there’s only one way for Lo to earn back her humanity. She must persuade a mortal to love her . . . and steal his soul.
Tell Me More: Human beings are funny things. Hand us a mystery, we’ll not only preoccupy ourselves with solving it, but as frustration builds, we’ll also come up with myriad explanations for all the things we cannot understand. The vastness of the ocean is one particular mystery that has enthralled people for centuries, and even as we make our marks on planets in the galaxy, knowing what lurks in the depths of the sea is still a challenge. Likewise, the human mind never quite lets us in all the time, and it can even turn on us as quickly as a storm can develop in open sea. Jackson Pearce’s new novel Fathomless is a brilliant study of identity and memory through characters that are tied to the water in ways they can’t comprehend.
Upon beginning this story, I was struck with the poignancy of the title Pearce chose. The word is lyrical, reminiscent of sea shanties and old tales, and yet it always seemed to hide something more. Celia and Lo’s story is much the same: both girls are aware of their lives, and they can locate themselves through what they do, but there is something deeper that neither of them feel comfortable poking at. Neither of them are comfortable with their identities. Celia is tired of being a triplet, simply “Anne and Jane’s sister,” and Lo struggles with the memory of a name, Naida, and what it means for her own identity as Lo. It’s a confusing and discomfiting experience for both girls, as adolescence always is. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Pearce used a third-person POV in the prologue–which introduces Lo–because it sets up the distance between Lo and the human race, of which she is no longer a part. While the rest of the story alternates between Celia and Lo’s point-of-views, the prose remains beautifully written.
One of the most interesting themes of the novel is centered around how memory gives us our identity. Celia has the ability to see anyone’s past, but her own father loses his memories because of Alzheimer’s. She can’t help him get those memories back, and so his identity as her father is lost as well. Lo’s memories as Naida quickly force her to choose who she will be, because they cannot both exist in the same body. Celia would do anything to help her father remember, but she can’t–Naida pushes Lo to kill a boy to get Naida’s soul back. Memories set up a powerful dynamic between the girls and make them decide once and for all what they are willing to do to be who they want to be. Can you grow without knowing what came before? Can you be different without knowing how you’ve changed? Is giving up the past for a new future the right thing to do?
As easy as it would be to focus on the paranormal aspects of this novel, I think that would do it an injustice. Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid is sanitized for children, and Pearce’s choice to base the story more on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale was a wise one. It asks the same questions without diluting the consequences of the mermaid’s choice, and it ties into Fathomless‘ themes of transformation and identity. Like the titular mermaid, Lo wants to know more than what she is expected to believe. She goes in search of knowledge, of memory, and she makes choices that aren’t always wise. But I absolutely loved the development of her character, and I think it works better than Celia’s own journey, which was more connected to the love story. The relationship between Jude and Celia was the weakest part of the story, in my opinion, and I think it would have benefited with a bit more time spent on that development. I do believe that the core of Fathomless was the connection between Celia and Lo, and it succeeds with aplomb.
The Final Say: Jackson Pearce brings some tough questions to her third fairytale retelling, and the result is a nuanced, passionate story of the choices we make and the connections we forge in our need for identity. Fathomless is one of her strongest novels to date.
Jackson Pearce lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with a slightly cross-eyed cat and a lot of secondhand furniture. She recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and a minor in Philosophy. She auditioned for the circus once, but didn’t make it; other jobs she’s had include obituaries writer, biker bar waitress, and receptionist. In addition, Jackson coaches both colorguard and winterguard at a local high school.
Jackson began writing when she got angry that the school librarian couldn’t tell her of a book that contained a smart girl, horses, baby animals, and magic. Her solution was to write the book herself when she was twelve. Her parents thought it was cute at first, but have grown steadily more concerned for her ever since.