Mermaid Park is Mayall's debut novel. Unfortunately, like too many first novels, it's a semi-fictional autobiography, full of awkward dialogue: "like I really liked things"; "A quick shake no. A quicker laugh"; "green-scented air" (Huh? what does 'green' smell like, I wonder?), deus ex machina plotlines and some of the poorest editing I've ever seen. But alas, the idea of publishing a book written by the former editor of not one but several teen magazines, was an idea that evidently proved too good for Razorbill's editors to pass up and thus Mermaid Park was pushed at us.
Mermaid Park tells the story of angst-ridden sixteen year old (Don't sizteen year olds come in any other variety?) Amy Rush and her vacation in Wildwood, where she gets a job at an aging mermaid park after surviving several days with her ditzy mother, her foul-mouthed, abusive step-father, obnoxious sister and her sister's equally obnoxious friend. Many events unfold at the mermaid park, in which she learns the truth about herself, her mother and her absent father. While the book is mostly readable, its main problems are fourfold:
1) It lacks a clear audience; it's a children's book that's unsuitable for children. Mermaid Park deals with adult themes and bad language (including the f-word) is used quite liberally, while the rather crudely handled characterisation and laugh-at-anything level of humour is aimed too low for the story to appeal to teens or adults.
2) There were far too many pointless and awkward scenes included that didn't meld naturally with the plot, but were seemingly put in there anyway because someone thought they were cool. Needless to say, most of them weren't.
3) The story abandons credibility in favour of force-feeding the reader the happy ending; after finishing the book, it became clear that this was a novel written for the purpose of showing the reader the brief, mechanical and anti-climatic scene of Amy starring in the mermaid show, which luckily she gets to star in thanks to the former mermaid queen having to run away to calm down her autistic brother, who had conveniently chosen that moment to beat up one of his friends.
4) It didn't come across as magical, just silly and immature.
On the other hand, perhaps Mermaid Park was just intended to be a light-hearted and magical story which I've taken far too seriously. Well I'm sorry, but I don't find either mermaids or swimming to be intrinsically magical, as the author presumably expects me to. And I don't think light-heartedness sits too well in a story where one's own paternity is being questioned and where family arguments, child abuse and running away from home are all going on.