Ocean Heart by Ally Aldridge - Your Next YA Fantasy Obsession
Today I want to talk about a unique YA fantasy book that I was lucky enough to ARC read. Ocean Heart, the first book in Ally Aldridge's The Soul Heart Series, was the first YA book I picked up in a while. It reminded me exactly why I'm a big fan of the YA fantasy genre and made my heart happy — in the middle of a pandemic, that's no easy feat.
Ocean Heart follows the story of Mariah, a young girl who has yet to realise how special she really is. Mariah is a sweetheart, and I really enjoyed watching her grow and find her feet (fins?). Her life becomes so complicated overnight, but she finds her fight and learns who she is throughout the novel.
It was nice to read something not only different, but well written and an engaging read. Mariah is 15 and she reads like it, she's confused, naive, and has a sweet honesty about her that most of us lose in our teens. It can be really hard to portray young teens without making them irritating, however Ally managed to make me not only connect with Mariah, but feel for her. I think it brought back a nostalgic feeling of stuff we all go through in our early teens in a lovely kind of way.
I loved the little love triangle, and I found myself torn at different points in the story about who I wanted her to choose. But it's not that simple, there's magic involved and it's crazy magic she doesn't understand or know how to control. I enjoyed the 'charged' connection going on, it kept me wanting to read more, and the magic spices things up in all the right ways!
It's set in an English seaside town called Felixstowe, which actually happens to be where Ally lives. I wasn't surprised to learn that fact, as the descriptions of each location always seemed to have a real personal touch which helped draw me into the story as a reader. It's the perfect place for Mariah's story to unfold.
As if finding out you're a mermaid isn't hard enough, Mariah has to juggle her normal teenager life too. High school always equals drama, always. Especially when your swim team rival has a moody mysterious thing going on....😜
Mariah is just a normal girl — cough famous last words... She has a wonderful best friend called Jace (who I want to have a stern chat with for being blind, but you can make your own opinions on him), and her swim team rival, Murray, is a massive pain in the ass. A hot pain in the ass.
You guys know me, I love digging into the background and I'm a sucker for locations with meaning. Back when Ally first started writing Ocean Heart a decade ago, there were two high schools in Felixtowe. Named after local rivers, there was Deben High School and Orwell High School. Ally decided to merge the two into Felixtowe High School — which actually happened in real life too! She's not only an awesome writer, she's psychic too. Sadly, the new school doesn't have a swimming pool and Mariah loves to swim, so Ally's version is probably closer to Deben, where she herself went to school.
As authors, we often draw on familiar surroundings. Lots of places in my own novels are places in Dublin I've been to, which makes everything feel more real. And this brings me to the cutest detail I've uncovered yet. There is a kiss scene (which will melt your damn hearts and it's not even my favourite kiss scene!) that takes place in Christchurch park, one of many beautiful parks in Ipswich. I've added it to the list of places I need to visit in England! This park features a few times in the novel and Ally's husband actually proposed to her in this very park! Three months later, she began writing Ocean Heart. How cute is that?!
This is a mermaid story, so of course we're going to take a few trips to the beach. The seaside setting of Felixtowe with its many beaches stretching from the ferry to the port works perfectly. Murray and his sister, Kiely, live in Old Felixtowe near a popular viewing point. Jacob's Ladder, a set of steep steps leading down to the beach feature in some important scenes. That viewpoint is the perfect spot to spy on someone and send something viral... Teenagers and their drama, eh? A really important scene takes place here, I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a werewolf hungry for merblood and these nasty things called soul reapers are coming... Being a mermaid isn't all fun and games, it's dangerous.
I'm normally a vampires or werewolves kind of girl, but Ally's twist on mermaids brought an entirely fresh perspective to the genre. I am now firmly a mermaid fan. The characters are so realistic and elicit very real emotions from the reader. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ocean Heart. It was a fun read that put me in a good mood, with a fresh twist on mermaids and an interesting plot, along with the perfect dash of romance. It made my heart happy and I can't wait for the next book in this series!
If you're interested (which you'd be crazy not to), head to Ally's website to grab your copy of Ocean Heart now!