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BOOK REVIEW by Chelena River: Julian Is a Mermaid

Updated: Jun 19

Julián Is a Mermaid is written and illustrated by Jessica Love. This is a book that introduces young readers to a world of freedom of individual expression. The story takes placed in an unnamed location, and the characters in the book appear to be of Latinx descent and speak both English and Spanish. The main indicator that the characters are Latinx is their use of Spanish. Without the use of Spanish words, the race/ethnicity of the characters would be unknown but potentially perceived as black or Latinx. For a more in-depth discussion of this aspect of the book, see "Trans People Aren't Mythical Creatures" on the Booktoss Blog.

The author, Jessica Love is a white woman who is married and has two children. She personally does not fit the culture of the characters in her book; however, she focuses on teaching the importance of personal expression, love, and acceptance. As a genderfluid person, I didn’t see this as a transgender book, but more of a book about the freedom of gender expression. This book does a great job challenging the reader’s bias and the social norms around gender expression and identity.

Julian is a young person who spends the day with abuela (grandma). On their way home from swimming, Julian sees three women dressed as mermaids aboard the train. Julian is mesmerized so much by these mermaids that he wants to dress like them. After they arrive at Julian's grandmother's house, Julian's grandmother goes to get cleaned up from swimming. While Julian is alone in the house, he decides to be a mermaid like the women on the train. He is very creative in making his costume and uses parts of a house plant and flowers for his headdress and a curtain for his design. When the grandma first sees him, she has an angry look on her face. At this point, the reader is uncertain why the grandma is angry and is allowed to come up with their own assumptions. Ultimately, the grandmother's response steers away from judgment and focuses on embracing love and acceptance. The grandma responds in a way that encourages Julian's creativity and strengthens the bond of their relationship.

The illustrations are extremely well-done. The characters in the book are all people of color. Jessica Love does a great job at masking the gender identity across all the mermaid characters in the book. Although the book is about gender expression and identity, the curiosity of gender becomes less important than the impact of allowing people the freedom to express themselves however they choose and the relational impact of doing so.

This book expands and focuses on what is truly important and allows the reader to reflect and gives the potential for self-growth. I would not call this a book about transgender people, but more around the concept of gender binary and its social construct.


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