After her life is upended by divorce and a cross-country move, 16-year-old Saskia Brown feels like an outsider at her new school—not only is she a transplant, she’s biracial in a population of mostly white students. One day while visiting her only friend at her part-time library job, Saskia encounters a vial of liquid mercury, then touches an old daguerreotype—the precursor of the modern-day photograph—and makes a startling discovery. She is somehow able to visit the man in the portrait: Robert Cornelius, a brilliant young inventor from the nineteenth century. The hitch: she can see him only in her dreams.

Cover of Mercury Boys

Happy pub. date to Mercury Boys by Chandra Prasad! This book hits shelves today, August 3, 2021. I received an advanced egalley from Books Forward in exchange for an honest review.

Mercury Boys is a story of family, friendship, and love, but not a traditional story. Sixteen-year-old Saskia Brown has just moved to a new town with her dad after discovering her mother has been sleeping with a much younger teacher at her school. Saskia doesn’t expect to make many friends at her new school–at least not quickly. So she is surprised when she and Lila become fast friends. Lila works at the library in a nearby university, and when one of Saskia’s assignments leads her to research daguerreotypes, Lila offers to sneak her into the library’s closed collection room. After talking Lila into letting her borrow a daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius, the man she is researching, Saskia makes a startling discovery.

She can visit Cornelius, but only in her dreams. Saskia opens up about her experience to a few other girls she’s hoping to become friends with, and they form a club: The Mercury Boys. As the club becomes more serious, the stakes get higher and the loyalty tests become more and more risky. Lila and Saskia begin to question what it means to be a part of the club, and just how far they are willing to go for their Forever Boyfriends.

Mercury Boys is an interesting novel in that the overall concept is riveting. Being able to travel through time to meet a long-dead individual through contact with mercury and a daguerreotype of the individual in question sounds like prime material for an amazing book. However, Prasad chose to center the book around hormonal, teenage girls, so the characters detracted quite a bit from the time-travel-visits-to-the-dead idea. Saskia is a likeable enough main character, but many of the secondary and tertiary characters around her are largely stereotypes or character tropes with a few extra embellishments. Hot, rich white girls who will do anything to get what they want because consequences don’t apply to them? Check. A stock lesbian character who is outed for plot tension and then largely forgotten about? Check. A recent divorce of the main character’s parents to rationalize her depressive state of mind and poor decisions? Check. Oh, and one parent is completely irredeemable and a shit human being? Check. And the other is conveniently absent except when it forwards the plot? Check.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this book. I read it in a few days, and when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the book and the characters. But I was hoping the whole time that the daguerreotype thread would lead to something more interesting. As is, the climax of the novel felt rushed and almost as if it came out of left field, and the ending felt incomplete. I finished the book with a little harrumph and a, “that’s it?” Mercury Boys had all the ingredients for an amazing book, but the elements of the story Prasad chose to focus on left me feeling a little unfocused on the point of the novel.

Again, I didn’t dislike the novel. It was an enjoyable enough read. I was just disappointed with the direction it took and the way things ended.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Soho Teen, August 3, 2021, 360 pages

CATEGORIES: YA, historical fiction

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