American Mermaid

A Novel

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Pub Date 21 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 28 Apr 2023

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A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF THE YEAR • "Sublime." —New York Times Book Review

"Brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world." —Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe

Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist, eco-warrior novel American Mermaid becomes a best-seller. But when Hollywood insists she convert her fierce, androgynous protagonist into to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her fictional mermaid come to life, enacting revenge against society’s limited view of what a woman can and should be?  

American Mermaid follows a young woman braving the casual slights and cruel calculations of a winner-take-all society and discovering a beating heart in her own fiction: a new kind of hero who fights to keep her voice and choose her place. A hilarious story about deep things, American Mermaid asks how far we’ll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale.
A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF THE YEAR • "Sublime." —New York Times Book Review

"Brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic...

Advance Praise

“I was hooked from the first page. American Mermaid is brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world.” —Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe

“I was hooked from the first page. American Mermaid is brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world.” —Madeline Miller...

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Average rating from 255 members

Featured Reviews

An engaging read. Langbein’s mermaid tale is smart, funny, and feminist — three of my favorite characteristics in fiction, especially when they occur together. It is cynical and hopeful in *almost* equal measure.

It’s the story of high school English teacher called Penelope who surprised herself with a first novel so successful she’s offered a contract to write the movie script when she sells the rights to a Hollywood movie producer. Penelope is naïve to the ways of Hollywood, which provides opportunities for much of the novel’s cynicism and social critique. The device of the book-within-the-book is a little gimmicky but effectively highlights the similarities of Penelope’s story and the mermaid’s tale.

Thanks to #NetGalley for ARC in exchange for honest review.

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This was a beautifully done literacy fiction novel, it was what I was hoping for from the description. It had a great message about Hollywood and the author of projects. It was wonderfully done and I was invested in what was happening to Penelope Schleeman. She felt like a real person and I really felt for her as the story when on, I was really rooting for her and American Mermaid to work.

"The doors opened with a ding. The colleague quickly offered to push Sylvia’s chair, but she declined with gentle thanks. They said good-bye and Sylvia caught sight of her mother outside the security turnstile. Her mother’s was the most familiar silhouette in the world to her, but jarring to see at Sylvia’s office."

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This is an interesting novel in which elements of science fiction, feminism and climate responsibility are combined. Honestly, I have never read anything quite like this. The catalyst is a novel written by the struggling teacher, Penelope, which is sold to Hollywood.

The author brilliantly combines the new novel, screen adaptation and the actual book. This is a complex and unusual novel. As a debut author, I admire the extraordinary style Langbein has utilized in this novel. Of course, I admire the feminist aspects as well as the emphasis on the neglect of our planet.

Yes, this is a winner. It is totally original and very engaging.

Thank you Netgalley.

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Julia Langbein’s American Mermaid is two stories in one. There’s the tale of Sylvia, a mermaid whose earnest story pulls at the heartstrings. Then there’s the story of Penelope, the writer whose book about Sylvia’s journey. Penelope’s book, American Mermaid, goes viral and Penelope heads to Hollywood to adapt her novel for the screen with the help of two slick bros. The experience is disheartening, to put it mildly, and sends Penelope into a bit of a spiral during her time in LA. Things begin to happen that seem beyond the realm of circumstance, and Pen wonders if the character she’s created is exacting revenge on her and the people involved in its desecration.
I honestly laughed my tail off so many times, especially towards the end of this book. It’s a well-crafted, witty read and I think it will be a huge hit—maybe even a movie! 5 stars.
This ARC was provided by NetGalley. The opinions expressed are my own.

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WOW!! Just finished this "wild ride"! American Mermaid is the story of Penelope, a high school teacher/writer who moves to L. A. to work with screenwriters as they develop her book into a movie. It's also the story of Sylvia, the mermaid from Penelope's book, American Mermaid. I don't believe I've ever read anything like this, where fictional and even "more fictional" characters interact in the most bizarre manner! This book brings in current topics of femininity, climate change, and capitalism as they relate to mermaids - yes, mermaids!

This is a fun read - it's incredibly well written in back-and-forth chapters between what's real and what's "fictional". It's one of the most creative stories that I've read. I did get a tad bogged down in parts, and would have liked it to move more quickly. Truthfully, there's so much in this book, I feel I should read it a few more times to really digest all the ins and outs of it thoroughly. HIGHLY RECOMMEND for a cerebral read!

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read and review American Mermaid.

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Beautifully written, wildly humorous, compelling mystery about a mermaid baby found washed up on a beach and surgically altered to live as a crippled human. Her evil adoptive father threatens a cataclysmic environmental event. Will she save the world?

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Wow! I didn't know what to expect when I started this book and it really blew me away. I loved how the author weaved the protagonist's story with the book she has written. It kept me guessing till the end. I loved how the image of the mermaid was used but flipped, especially since I was reading this when the new "Little Mermaid" film trailers with a Black mermaid was making the news. I don't want to give anything away but if like books about feminist but flawed women then this is for you.

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Hilarious! Moving! Complicated! Fun!
American Mermaid is like no other book - follow Penelope as she quits her low paying English teaching job to move to LA to write the screen play for her surprise best selling novel about a Mermaid.

Words alone cannot describe how witty and sharp the dialogue Julia Langbein has created. The characters are both bigger than life and as common as your office mates. You will root for Penny to keep her pride and her
respect and maintain the great character she created while slowly and surely, Hollywood chips away at the concept. If you love a fresh and hilarious new voice, all things mermaid (and special, and fantastical) or just want a novel where a woman fights to maintain her autonomy and voice, America Mermaid is for you! #Doubleday

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American Mermaid by Julia Langbein is a suspenseful fantasy set in real time. I love the way mermaid mythology, science and a tragic story of love and betrayal are written. As a lover of mermaids and strong female leads, this novel is spot on. I enjoyed the writing style of the author which provided believable details without doing a deep dive. I am going to definitely recommend this title.

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Penelope writes a best seller, America Mermaid. She quits her teaching job to go to Hollywood and help turn the novel into a movie. Facing pressure to turn her main character into a teen sex object, she begins to notice strange things happening; like the mermaid is mad.

I love books about books and this one is so intriguing and unique. It did take some time to get into. First I was way more into the book excerpts than the real story. Somewhere about halfway through, that switched for me! My favorite thing about this book was that it was serious and deep, but also had some majorly funny and witty moments. I love when humor sneaks up on you in books like that! I did love the ending but I have a nagging feeling a few things went over my head so I’ll need to reread at some point!

“Do not go to war with women in the state of becoming. Their dark arts are deep and indomitable.”

American Mermaid comes out 3/21.

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AMERICAN MERMAID is both hugely entertaining and remarkably insightful. The author has done a marvelous job of weaving societal commentary with a carefully-designed plot, and the combination makes for an entertaining narrative. I found this one to be smart and feminist -- and surprisingly funny in a clever sort of way. A very unique hook that is executed flawlessly.

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AMERICAN MERMAID is unlike anything I've read in a long time. It takes a lot for me to find a book refreshing and this one certainly is. Ultimately the reader is left with the question, does art imitate life or is it the other way around?

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A fascinating nuanced mermaid tale. It was funny, tragic, shocking at times, and food for thought. I loved the back and forth between the book inside the book and the attempt at making it into a movie. The allusions to feminism and the rise of power for women were well-done. I enjoyed the insight into what an author goes through when selling a book to Hollywood. Great read.

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American Mermaid is a delightful debut from Julia Langbein full of humor and heart. Highly recommended. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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Best thing about this book; that gives you a chance to connect with two unique, unconventional characters at the same time! And you get lost into a brilliant combination of different genres including drama, fantasy, mystery, women’s fiction! The execution is smart, unusual and surprising! The characters are vivid, multidimensional!

There’s nothing ordinary about this book! Just jump in without thinking any further and embrace the entire installment, get ready to be surprised!

Penelope’s peaceful life in Connecticut changed after her diagnose. She has to fight against big C just like her mother recently did but she doesn’t have enough funds to support herself. For years with the support of her teaching job she putted a roof over her head and paid her bills on time but her savings weren’t much enough to cover her health bills which made her question the life choices she’s made.

As her lowest point writing helped her to heal her wounds. She’s created her mermaid character Sylvia: half human/ half mermaid by the creation of scientists. Penelope channels her inner strength to that character! Sylvia is tougher woman who can fight for her own happiness!

Penelope cannot believe in her luck when the publishers decide to give her book a chance and later the book turns into a bestseller which picks the interest of movie producers for the adaptation.

Penelope decides to leave her peaceful life and teaching job behind to move to LA to work with male screenwriters for the adaptation of her own book. Of course she also feels like a fish out of the water, when she starts engaging with Lala Land people by attending special Hollywood parties.

Her adjustment problems are only the beginning of the bigger issue she has to deal! Her co-screenwriters want to turn Sylvia into a sex symbol, a seducing wild creature. She loses the control of the script’s direction and unexplainable things start to occur that also changes the entire direction of her life! Could Sylvia come to life to avenge her for ruining her characterization? Could her worst nightmare become true?

I’m not gonna make more comments. I don’t want to ruin your sacred reading experience! As I told you before just dive into this book! It’s an underrated secret gem! You don’t want to miss it!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for sharing this amazing digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest thoughts.

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I love a story within a story and this one delivers. I thought about it long after I finished, and will definitely add it to my stack of things to reread when I am in a slump. Looking forward to more from this author.

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This ARC was provided to me via Kindle, from Doubleday Books and #NetGalley. Thank you to the publishers, NetGalley and the author for the opportunity to preview and review. Opinions expressed are completely my own.

A shockingly beautiful debut novel. It’s a tale that’s hard to put down. The writing is funny, unique and brilliantly executed. Pick this up for your next book club read.

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In this wry social commentary, broke teacher Penelope writes a hit novel and is swept away to Hollywood by the promise of big money if she will help turn her book into a movie. But before long, the movie industry has twisted Peneope's feminist story is twisted into a sexy action flick and her message is gutted. But the story won't die quietly--mysterious things start happening to the script and the people involved. Could the mermaid possibly be more than a figment of Penelope's imagination?

Julia Langbein is a wordsmith! Every word crackles and flows into the next to create a rhythmic, cohesive whole. So much of this work was a social commentary: men trying to conquer nature; men trying to conquer women. The narrative posits that society teaches women not to trust themselves and their own inner voices, preventing them from being their best selves and accessing their own power. We watch as Penelope trudges through an isolated, depressing life, barely squeezing by and lacking meaning and connections--feeling different and alone and left chasing shallow things that give a false sense of security. And her mermaid protagonist feels the same--like something's wrong with her which makes her isolated and alone. Both feel a distinct asexuality in a world where society tells women that men have a right to their bodies. The mermaid world in Penelope's book, however, lifts up a matriarchal society immune to the sexual power and destruction that men hold, where mermaids lure men to their deaths through the promise of pleasure, and then gutting them as cleanly and carefully as humans gut a fish. In the end, the superpower is really the love of women for each other and for their offspring, a deeply resonant truth about society and self. I can see this as an excellent book for a university class or a thinking group of people who want to examine and improve society and how we treat each other and the planet.

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It's almost like getting two books in one! A humorous one and a tragic one. Here's how it works. The fictional author of a novel, American Mermaid, is hired by Hollywood to write the screenplay. Hollywood wants to sex it up and put in more action. Can Penny save her story from the Hollywood machine? This is the fun part of the novel.

Intertwined with that is the dystopian story, American Mermaid, where a billionaire has the knowhow to speed up climate change and plans to use it in such a way that only billionaires survive--and they must pay him for their survival. Only one person (?) stands in his way--his adopted mermaid daughter.

Science fiction plus humor. Comedy plus tragedy. Parts of the book had me laughing out loud and parts had me feeling sad for the mutilated mermaid and her compromised doctor. Even though the two-story lines share space between the covers of American Mermaid, it's never confusing as to what's what. In fact, it's quite clever.

Science fiction, comedy, dystopian, and the perils of being an ingenue in La La Land. What a fun ride!

Thanks to Netgalley and Doubleday for allowing me to read and review an eARC of American Mermaid.

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I've never read a book quite like this - which makes it that much more difficult to describe. The novel is essentially a story inside a story; in "reality", we follow the perspective of Penelope Schleeman, a high school teacher in Connecticut struggling to make ends meet. She spends her free time writing a novel that is eventually published under the title of "American Mermaid", and to her surprise, it sells exceedingly well and catches the eyes of a team of screenwriters in Hollywood that reach out to her to turn it into a movie. With the help of a newly acquired agent, Penelope agrees to do so, quits her job, and moves out to LA to work on the future production.

Interspersed across Penelope's story are passages from her novel, telling the story of young Sylvia, a wheelchair-bound woman who discovers as an adult that she's actually a mermaid, and uses her science background to champion ecological preservation. (Honestly, I loved the glimpses into this novel that we did get, and would have loved to read a full-blown novel focused solely on Sylvia.) However, Penelope finds that working in Hollywood is far from glamorous, and watches as her story gets completely twisted and transformed into a completely different creation to appease the masses. As time goes on, she begins to wonder if her creation has come to life to get revenge on her...

For a debut novel, Langbein has crafted a witty, tongue-in-cheek satire that calls out the ridiculousness of media today, while also calling out present day issues faced by women in society today. While I didn't love some of the inclusions she made (long-winded emails or text conversations between Penelope and her screenwriters, long conversations about script changes, etc.), I think the overall story framework and concept was well-written and framed. She was able to take on different writing styles and tones going between the two different stories, and tied both of them together at the end.

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This novel is easy to read and quick to get lost in.

I selected this book because of the cover. A hand-drawn mermaid’s tail superimposed over a photo-realistic image of a California beach town with the title scribbled above suggested a story that didn’t take itself seriously. The title suggested American sensibilities blended with nautical folklore. The packaging delivered on its promise, but the novel had so much more.

I was immediately hooked by the witty voice of the narrator, Penny; Langbien’s eccentric humor; and the whirlwind plot. I noticed I was often reading with a smile on my face as zany one-liners, silly metaphors, and whacky descriptions cruised through the zippy narrative. There were times I laughed out loud. But it’s written by a woman who began her professional life in New York City’s stand-up comedy scene, so of course it’s funny—and smart and unexpected and twisty and tender. I mean, Penny, an aspiring novelist, writes a story about a mermaid who’s afraid to drown. How clever is that?

Told in first person, Penny “works lawyer hours for babysitter money,” while she writes American Mermaid. Her debut novel gains traction when an influencer posts about it and it becomes an instant bestseller. Penny’s an average looking high school English teacher who leaves her teaching job in New Haven, Connecticut, and moves to LA. As her novel is turned into an action film, she’s hilariously insecure as she finds she’s not as attractive as the Hollywood set.

As a female on land, I related to both Penny and the mermaid, and I kept turning pages to find out what was going to happen. If you like humorous feminist fiction like Bonnie Garmus’s 2022 debut “Lessons in Chemistry” you’ll like this contemporary version of a mermaid’s Hollywood tale.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday Books for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

#AmericanMermaid #ladyplots

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Penny is a former school teacher who has come to Hollywood to help write the screenplay for her smash hit book about a feminist mermaid. This is a good one to know very little about before you start reading so you can enjoy the experience.

Such a witty and clever debut! I laughed out loud many times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you to NetGalley for an early copy.

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A wild ride. A unique premise and razor sharp prose. This book is nothing like anything I’ve read before.

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Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for an opportunity with this title. I found a lot to enjoy in this, a fun concept brought forward in meaningful ways to the characters. The mystery holds you with a compelling premise and solid follow through.

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American Mermaid is a unique story a book full of heart.I was drawn in from the first pages a book that had me laughing out loud a story that will charm you,.Blends many genres in to one five star read.#netgalley #doubledaybooks.

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Penelope is an author that has found herself struggling to maintain the authenticity of her book and strong female lead. With a movie option in the works, her main character becomes picked apart, and Hollywood execs call for a younger, sexier version of her strong eco-warrior mermaid. As the real world begins to mirror her fictional world, Penelope must figure out how to remain authentic in this ruthless industry.

Overall, an enjoyable read. The beginning started a bit shaky for me, but I was one hundred percent invested in the story.
Unfortunately, I do believe I hyped this book up too much in my head, so I already had a bias when starting this novel. But surprisingly enough, I wasn’t let down.

The publisher provided ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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American Mermaid is a perfect beach read - in every way. Romance, intrigue, great characters, and the mermaids, natch. Penny, who teaches high school English for near-poverty wages, has written a novel called American Mermaid on the side. The main character, Sylvie, was raised by scientist parents and a caring doctor to be a seemingly disabled teenager, unaware of her aquatic powers until she uncovers a global conspiracy to drown the world for profit. Penny soon finds her novel blowing up on social media - and Hollywood knocking on her door. Seduced by the glamour (and especially the money), Penny agrees to help with a script to film Sylvie's story. Little does she know what the script doctor bros from Hollywood have in store. As Penny struggles to maintain her character's independence and female power, the events of her novel come alive in her own life. What is real? What is power? How do we resist the seduction and oppression of patriarchy and capitalism in our own lives?

This might sound like a downer sermon of a book, but Langbein's writing is absolutely delightful. The prose zips along like a summer breeze that hides the depths of the sea beneath. Penny's quirkly foibles are contrasted with her slacker coworker, her power-driven agent, her stoner cowriters, and the teens who mentor her. The text of Penny's novel is also sprinkled throughout the book, showing another alternate story of a woman embracing her power in the face of domination. Highly recommended as a compelling and fun read that carries a vital message in our 21st century world.

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Basically, this book had me at "mermaid," though to be honest the mermaid part is only half of this story (it serves as a book within the book.) Overall, I appreciated the way the author juggled the two halves, even if it didn't always stick the landing for me personally, (sometimes the tonal shifts between the two were jarring.)

The book within the book is called "American Mermaid" and it is thought provoking, something you might want to read on its own (you kinda get the gist of it here, though.) But don't become too attached to that story, the other half of this book concerns the author's adventures in getting American Mermaid made into a movie. THAT part of this book is entirely different in tone. Often snarky and fun, with some interesting things to say about the Hollywood machine.

This book soars when these two halves of the story rub against each other, (like when the story within the story mentions the atomic bomb, then quickly switches to a chapter where screenwriters talk about needing to cut it from the movie cause it's a bummer.) There are parallels and connections between the two halves of the story throughout the book, which I dug, but also references to one story bleeding into the other, (which I dug less.)

Toward the end, this book starts getting a little crazy (the Hollywood part) and I wasn't necessarily feeling those narrative choices. But there's no denying that this is an intriguing story and a cool idea with some great quotes, (a favorite... "Do not go to war with women in a state of becoming. Their dark arts are deep and indomitable."

Hell yeah. Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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'American Mermaid' may be a silly title for a book, but don't judge this book by its title. From the first chapter, the darkly comedic tone hooks you right into the central character and her journey from school teacher to successful author, and then to Hollywood screenwriter(ish). Having worked as a film director and writer, the softly-satirical world of filmmaking into which Penny is thrust felt all too real. As the book moves between the "real" world and excerpts of Penny's novel, sometimes blurring the lines between 'fact' and fiction, I found the book lost steam. Maybe it's just that I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, so the excerpts weren't as compelling. But in any event, with this ambitious debut, Langbein proves she's going to be a literary force, should it find its audience.

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American Mermaid by Julia Langbein is a fun, smart read! It's told in alternating stories, one being a novel within a novel, the other being the "real-life" story of the novelist. The novel within is a feminist fantasy about a mermaid found and adopted by a wealthy American family. The mermaid character's defining characteristics are being intellectually brilliant and asexual. The novel echoes the life of the author, a messy, under-achieving, cynical high school English teacher, who embarks on a hilarious sojurn in Hollywood after selling the movie rights to her novel. The contemporary story is a funny satire of Hollywood and the "girl boss" mythos. The novel within is intriguing if somewhat clunky. I recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining read with a feminist edge.

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Ok in all honesty, I chose this book because of the title and cover! I don’t know what I expected, but I did enjoy it! Different style, but worth a read!

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