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{November 11, 2019}   {ARC Review} Coral by Sara Ella

From Goodreads: 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?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.


Sara Ella’s Coral is a novel that deals heavily with mental health, and all of her characters are touched by it in some way, shape, or form. Ella’s descriptions of depression, anxiety, and suicide are brutal, and so she’s placed a trigger warning at the beginning of the novel, one I didn’t note when I was eagerly flipping through to the start of the story, and I regretted it. So, since Ella has published her trigger warning note on Goodreads as well as in the beginning of her novel, I’m also posting it below, because it’s powerful, and you need to know about it before you start this novel:

“Trigger Warning & A Note to My Readers: For my friends who have experienced trauma, a warning—this story may be triggering. I have done my best to approach the mental health topics addressed in this book in the most sensitive and caring way possible. But even all the research and sensitivity readers in the world would never make it so I could approach every aspect of mental health from every perspective. Your experience is unique to you.

Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.

With that said, while some of what I have written comes from research and some from the caring eyes of sensitivity readers who have lived through many of these experiences, other pieces come from my own personal experience with emotional trauma. If you have lost a loved one, I’m with you. If you face depression or anxiety, my heart aches with you in a truly personal way. If you have ever felt misunderstood for these things or simply wanted to escape altogether—I understand.

For the girl who is not okay. For the boy who wonders if it will ever get better. This story is for you.

My hope is that Coral’s tale may be a small pinprick of light in your darkness—a reminder that you are seen. You are loved. You are not alone. You are not nothing, my friend. And neither am I.


Sara Ella”

I think if I’d read that trigger warning before starting this novel, I would have approached it in an entirely different light, and that is on me, and also why I need all potential readers to be ready for it. This is not a lighthearted tale, even though it deals with mermaids, and readers might think it’s going to be specifically a retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” It’s not. It’s not really a mermaid story at all, but rather an in-depth gritty look at characters who are emotionally broken, who are truly hurting for a multitude of reasons. I’ve read a number of books that tout that they deal with tragedy and mental health, but then find that the author sugar coats it all to create a happy ending. But this is not that story, and Ella does not sugarcoat anything.

I also think that had I read the trigger warning, I would have understood what was happening within the novel much quicker than I did, though the foreshadowing and hints are woven throughout.

What I mean is, Ella does not clearly connect the stories and points of view together for a very long time, which she is doing on purpose, but it is also frustrating for the reader, especially because she continually mentions happenings and starts down a pathway for the story and then just leaves the loose ends hanging for a majority of the novel… so long, in fact, that I nearly put this novel on my “did not finish” pile a number of times, because even at the halfway mark, I was still wondering what the purpose of the story was, and when the exposition would end and the rising action would begin.

The novel starts by introducing us to Coral, “the littlest mermaid” as she readies to turn 16 and take her place within her family. However, the Red Tide is coming for her oldest sister, and it’s bad… and that’s about all we initially know. Throughout the whole novel, we’re given many tidbits of information, but nothing concrete enough to really know what’s going on or what has happened in the past to these characters for us to make much sense of it all, or to begin making the connections needed. And while I think this was done in order to drive suspense, I think for me, it did the opposite, and confused me more than anything else. We jump from Coral to Brooke without much connection, then to Merrick, and round it goes, until suddenly, the mermaid world is no longer discussed and everything takes place on land. It’s here that I began to suspect what Ella was attempting to do with the story, yet the information we’re given is so halted that I felt like I always had more questions than answers as I read. It’s not until near the end that Ella confirmed my suspicions about who these characters are and how they’re all connected, and while I think it was a great plot twist idea, the execution of it fell a bit flat as it took so long and there was so much confusion prior, that it almost just fizzled out for me.

And yet, it works. While I did spend a majority of this novel thinking, “what is happening” and feeling like too much was glossed over and not fleshed out enough, when the plot twist was finally revealed, I felt validated—and this is when the real emotion of the novel hit me. That, and then another part towards the end, which I’m sorry to post about, as it’s a tiny spoiler, but one I feel potential readers need to know about because it is beyond tragic: a child commits suicide. That broke me. I was hanging on pretty well up until that point, but that is something that I did not expect and it really triggered me based on my own personal life, and I just… well, like I said, Ella does not sugarcoat, and she shouldn’t if she’s going to do a book on mental illness that hits home.

And this brings me to my conclusion—all this to say that this is a good book, although confusing and perpetually dark. Three stars.

I recieved an ARC of this novel, which releases today, from Thomas Nelson Publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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