3 out of 4 stars
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After a troublesome past in Chicago, seventeen-year-old Leah Cassels is being sent to live with her father in California. Her mother hopes this will be good for Leah by changing her current trajectory. When she arrives in Seaside Heights, it doesn't take long for her to fall victim to the lure of Monica and Sabina. The girls have it all—beauty, affluence, and power.
At first, Leah feels grateful for all the attention and how easily she's transitioned into her new school. Still, when things seem too good to be true, they usually are. Monica has proven herself to be quite the vindictive friend—turning people against one another, engaging in illegal and dangerous activities, and tearing others down without a morsel of regret. Monica is the epitome of mean, and Leah knows that if she has any hope of graduating without a criminal record, she needs to distance herself from the girls.
Still, Monica keeps upping the ante, and Leah is worried that she'll be the next person to get on her bad side. What will Leah do?
Marijuana Mermaid by David-Matthew Barnes is a YA novel about friendship, family, and identity. Told from the first-person perspective, readers follow Leah Cassels as she tries to find her place in a new town where fitting in is everything. On top of being the new girl, Leah must adapt to her parents getting a divorce, her father's new wife, and Monica's attempts to control her every move.
My favorite thing about the book was the main character. Leah is funny and likable, but flawed which I think will be relatable to teen readers. Like many kids her age, she is struggling with being a product of a broken family. I definitely think that some of her poor choices are a result of this, and I applaud the author for addressing the plight of being a kid with divorced parents. I also loved her quick wit and her ability to stand up for what she believes in—if something didn't sit well with her, she wasn't afraid to voice her opinion, even if it didn't win her any popularity points with Sabina and Monica.
I loved the book for the most part, but I disliked the rapid pace of events in the last quarter. Several new conflicts were introduced and quickly resolved, which I think took away from the story. Relationship changes, medical emergencies, disappearances, saying goodbye, etc., were all things that seemed to happen or be resolved at a dizzying rate. Making the book longer or slowly weaving these into the storyline could have steadied the frenzied pace.
Marijuana Mermaid had no spelling or grammar issues, and I can happily report that it was professionally edited. The book was engaging, and Leah's character resonated with me, but as stated earlier, I was disappointed with the rushed pace, particularly towards the end of the book. With that being said, I have chosen to give the book a rating of three out of four stars.
I would recommend the novel to teens who love books about what goes on in high school. This book definitely reminded me of the movie Mean Girls. It had some funny moments and some darker ones, so if you like that type of movie, you'll love Marijuana Mermaid. On the contrary, for readers who didn't have the conventional high school experience, this book may not resonate with you.
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