CORAL by Sara Ella is a moving standalone that focuses on the challenges of anxiety and depression. This post CONTAINS SPOILERS.
I was fortunate to receive a copy through NetGalley from Thomas Nelson. Here is the summary and spoiler review.
There is more than one way to drown.
Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?
Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?
Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?
When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?
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Why I was interested: As someone who adores retellings — especially of The Little Mermaid! — and faces anxiety and depression, I was interested in seeing a mental health angle to the beloved classic. Plus, I really love mermaid stories.
Judge a book by it’s cover: The cover is lovely and focuses so much on the colors that are discussed within the story. Including Coral and Brooke on the cover is a nice detail along with their books and the message in a bottle.
What to expect: This story really, truly focuses on mental health. Suicide and suicidal-attempts does show appear in this story, forewarning, but it is handled with such care you really empathise with the main characters, Brooke, Coral, and Merrick. This standalone is at once heart-shattering but also healing with hope truly at its core. It was nice to be able to truly relate with characters who feel anxiety and depression; their emotions feel so raw and how it feels to be battling with these “Diseases.”
Why you should pick this book up: CORAL truly understands the rawness of mental health and the stigma around it. However, it also really focuses on the hope of “after.” This contemporary-fantasy story is heartfelt and caring in all the right ways with just the amount of plot twists you’ll be happy to find.
Want more?: Sara Ella is also the author of the UNBLEMISHED trilogy.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ CORAL do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
As mentioned before, I love a good fairy tale retelling but I also appreciate authors working hard to represent mental health accurately. CORAL does both wonderfully and while it can be really dark, it truly shows how hard anxiety and depression can be.
At first we follow Coral, Brooke, and Merrick, but the brilliant thing about this book is how layered it is — especially when it comes to story. At first I thought Brooke might be Coral’s long-dead sister who was somehow alive due to the pearl bracelet. But as details emerge slowly such as when Brooke visits UC Berkeley and she reveals who her siblings are and Hope’s funeral, it comes together that Brooke’s story takes place a year after Merrick’s and that Coral’s spans over both: Coral is Brooke but as a character who she writes about to process her mental health.
It is such a clever, well-presented twist that reflects both the fairy tale retelling and therapy for anxiety and depression. It almost takes the gravity of mental health to a new level as the fairy tale is used as a coping device. It also reflects this idea that mental health problems are not a fairy tales — they are real and painful.
While Brooke/Coral’s story focuses on the trope of the young, seemingly naive maiden who must grow for grave reality, Merrick’s story focuses of the trope of the villain.
Merrick sees his father as the villain of his story: he is brash to Merrick’s mother and is very hard on Merrick and his sister, Amaya Hope. Merrick also doesn’t appreciate how his father pushes him onto his friend, Nikki, even though we can see he is sort of a jerk to Nikki as well.
However, as Merrick grows after he takes Amaya away, finds his lost mother, and Amaya’s two suicide tries — including the time she succeeds — Merrick realizes that while his father’s tactics might not have seemed appropriate at the time, he did them because he cared about Amaya, Merrick, and their mother. Their father pays for their mother’s bills after she leaves, sends Amaya to Fathoms in order to find some help and visits her, and gives Merrick some respectful space as he decides he wants to become a counselor instead of a businessman.
In the end, Merrick and Brooke find the strength to move forward from grief, anxiety, and depression. They will always love and miss their siblings, yet they will do so fondly because of who they were. They have both been through deep water and felt as if they were going to drown, but they have found hope in moving forward — together — one step at a time.
This standalone is a heavy and yet hopeful read. CORAL plays with the original Little Mermaid story while being honest and true about mental health. I adored this clever book and look forward to reading more by Sara Ella.
What did you think of Sara Ella’s CORAL? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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