Book Review | The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

the surface breaks
Title: The Surface Breaks
Author: Louise O’Neill
Publish Date: May 3, 2018 by Scholastic
# of Pages: 320
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Buy it*: Amazon


(From Goodreads) Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

Bookish Stats

I rapidly consumed The Surface Breaks in 3 days. This is a book I could have easily read in a single sitting!

The Surface Breaks


Rating (1-5, 5 is exceptional)
Quality of Writing – 4
Pace – 4
Plot Development – 4
Ending – 5
Characters – 5
Enjoyability – 5
Ease of Reading – 5

Overall Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill is a beautiful feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid.

The Surface Breaks was a captivating read. As far as retellings go, this is going to go down as one of my favorites. I adored the feminist twist! Disney’s The Little Mermaid has very little girl power in it, whereas this book inserted a healthy dose of girl power into the classic story.

The book was well-written and well-paced. It never lagged or meandered as it followed Gaia’s story from being under the sea to walking on land. I liked that it followed the classic storyline closely, while still interjecting enough originality into the story to keep it fresh.

The plot development was brilliantly executed. I appreciated the introduction of Zane, Gaia’s betrothed. Outside of falling in love with a human, Gaia had more than one reason to want to escape her life under the sea.

The ending was definitely not a Disney ending! I loved it. Gaia came out with guns blazing, and I couldn’t help but cheer her on. The ending, truly, was worthy of a feminist power anthem. The Sea Witch’s part in the story was also awe-inspiring. Instead of the traditional antagonist, the Sea Witch became the poster-child for women’s rights. So cool! I want more!

I loved the characters. From the wretched Sea King to the feminist Sea Witch, all of the characters were unique and well-developed. There wasn’t a bad character in the lot of them. Besides Gaia, the Sea Witch was probably my favorite character, even though she doesn’t play a big part. I just loved her personality–it was fun to read. I also liked Oliver’s character. In the Disney version of the Little Mermaid, the prince is handsome and perfect in every which way. In The Surface Breaks, Gaia’s human love interest Oliver is far from perfect. I liked this break from the classic story.

I adored this book. If you’re in the market for a quick-read and enjoy re-tellings, give this one a read!


  • “‘It is your father who has insisted on calling me a ‘witch’. That is simply a term that men give women who are not afraid of them, women who refuse to do as they are told.'”
  • “‘Why would I be offended? Being called fat is not an insult, little mermaid. It is as meaningless as being called thin. They are just descriptions.'”
  • “‘I like my body. And while I value my own opinion over those of men, it might surprise you to know that some prefer a woman of more plentiful flesh.'”
  • “‘I live in the dark because I can be true there, and living true is the most important thing any woman can do.'”
  • “‘Powerful women are often threatening to insecure men.'”

Let’s Talk!

Have you read The Surface Breaks? Is it on your TBR? What’s your favorite fairytale retelling?

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26 thoughts on “Book Review | The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

  1. I’ve just finished reading this book yesterday. It was just a good read! I can’t wait to write a book review 😀 you’re review is pretty spot on. I think Ceto was a pretty awesome character too. Really integral to the story even though she’s not actually in it much. Everything she said I was just like preach! Preach it sister! 😅 great review 🙂 like the break down you’ve done of the different aspects of reading the book. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That cover is stunning! I don’t read many retellings and I’d probably stay clear of the Little Mermaid retellings too because as you say the disney film wasn’t really positive for women but this sounds really interesting. I especially love the quotes section you put in, the one about men calling women who aren’t afraid of them witches was brilliant

    Liked by 1 person

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