Book Reviews

Review: Man O’War by Cory McCarthy

Man O’War is one of those stories that almost immediately, I was thinking, “I am so glad this story is in the world now”. It’s one of those where you hope it finds its people. The audience of teens who need to hear this story. Because it has so much heart, about questioning, and about love. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio. When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are—only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: gender dysphoria, homophobia, sexism, racism, cissexism, transphobia, deadnaming, acephobia, anxiety attack, anxiety, self-harm

Man O’War is an emotional book that was both heart wrenching and heart warming. It’s a story about love and family. But most importantly it’s a story about River. About doing the difficult work of confronting our past mistakes and the internalized shame and homophobia we have. It’s no small thing to not only try to make amends, but to unpack why. And to realize that our actions reflected our own insecurities and fears and doubts. If you want a book that will leave you heart feeling raw, but also full, this is for you.

I was so excited for Man O’War before even beginning and once I started i was smitten. I loved the vibe of the atmosphere. This Sea Planet setting that sort of ties the entire story together. While this is a contemporary, the feeling of setting and of this small town, was so rich and detailed. And it allows River to figure out all their internalized feelings. The currents trying to pull us into what ‘society pressures us to be’, to wade through our feelings.

Man O’War is like diving straight into a pool. That bracing feeling of cold water and the splash of impact. The immediate sinking you can feel of being submerged. The raw feeling of the bottom of the pool. And the effort needed to break for the surf. But how that first breath of air feels. If you love a book that is gripping and full of emotions and questions – read Man O’War. It’s about putting words to the feelings withing us. To know that being protected in a cage, is still to be imprisoned.


That to struggle through the internalized racism and homophobia, the boxes we are put into, is hard work. It’s difficult to fight the waves. But it’s important to bring us closer to who we are. And at the same time, it’s crucial to realize that someone cannot be our lifeboat. That we need to do the difficult work ourselves, to navigate the underwater dangers.

(Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. For more information you can look at the Policy page. If you’re uncomfortable with that, know you can look up the book on any of the sites below to avoid the link)

Man O’War is a book that I would recommend to everyone. I know it will help so many people and I am so happy this story and voice is being heard. Find Man O’War on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite book with a swimmer in it?

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