What I love about Sea Sirens: A Trot and Cap’n Bill Adventure (June 11th, 2019/ Viking) is how fun it is. It’s the story of Trot, a young Vietnamese-American who loves to surf but has to take care of her aging grandpa while her single mom works during the day. She sneaks out of the house one day to surf but finds herself wiped out with her one-eyed cat, Cap’n Bill. She finds herself in a fantasy underworld filled with Sea Sirens as well as their mortal enemy the Serpents and she soon finds herself entangled into a war between the two. In this fantasy world, she also discovers that her cat Cap’n Bill can talk and many other magical things.
Natural Incorporation of Asian-American Themes
Sea Sirens is inspired by the short story, The Sea Fairies by Frank Baum (of Wizard of Oz fame), the sea and Vietnamese mythology. It was heartwarming to see Vietnamese sayings in the original Vietnamese in the book. Trot has to stay home, looking after her grandpa who has dementia, while her mom works during the day. In the interactions with her grandpa, he uses Vietnamese proverbs and Chu made sure that the Vietnamese that she used was accurate (as seen in the acknowledgements section of the book).
Something that I appreciated was Chu’s answer in a Westfield Comics interview about the book, ” I thought, why don’t we set this in southern California? It would be an updated mermaid book with some of the aesthetic from the original story but with a Pacific Rim feel. As an Asian American, I thought, let’s make it an Asian American themed home. We were looking at a lot of art from the Californian turn of the century arts and crafts movement. It felt very right for this book.” I love how nonchalant Chu was about making it an Asian-American themed, especially since the Asian elements are so natural in the story. Chu’s story-weaving of the story is also deft and it’s no wonder, since works as a full-time comic writer, with clients such as Marvel and DC.
The Art Nouveau-style
While I’ve said before that I’m not a beach person at all, the art in Sea Siren made me wish that I was. Janet K. Lee’s work is beautiful and I wish there are prints of the art from the book (there aren’t but Lee does have an Etsy shop filled with beautiful prints). The vibrant art reminds me of the Art Nouveau style. Lee is also the artist behind the Marvel adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma and Northanger Abbey.
Although the book is a middle-grade graphic novel aimed at young readers eight to twelve, Sea Sirens is such a fun read that doesn’t seem infantile for an adult audience. Come for the story and stay for the art.