Mercury Boys is a book where I read the synopsis AGES ago. And then I promptly forgot what it was about. So when I started it, there was a big, “aha” moment when I remembered the historical fiction aspect! Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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.
Saskia shares her revelation with some classmates, hoping to find connection and friendship among strangers. Under her guidance, the other girls steal portraits of young men from a local college’s daguerreotype collection and try the dangerous experiment for themselves. Soon, they each form a bond with their own “Mercury Boy,” from an injured Union soldier to a charming pickpocket in New York City.
At night, the girls visit the boys in their dreams. During the day, they hold clandestine meetings of their new secret society. At first, the Mercury Boys Club is a thrilling diversion from their troubled everyday lives, but it’s not long before jealousy, violence, and secrets threaten everything the girls hold dear.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: racism, self-harm
Mercury Boys had a wonderfully unique premise about being transported to the past. This historical fiction almost fantasy like aspect had to be one of my favorite elements. Because I understand that fixation with the past, that intense curiosity you get, all the obsession about how lives were lead. I don’t think I would have gone to quite the extent the characters in Mercury Boys go to, but the kernel of the idea captivated me. Through these girls eyes we are transported to the past with them, to see the challenges we don’t understand, and the gaps in technology.
Another element I enjoyed was Mercury Boys‘ discussion of toxic friendship. At times, these scenes felt downright terrifying, but I think that this intense desire to be accepted, to be seen and involved, is such a powerful feeling. Mercury Boys examines the emotional manipulation of an in-group and what we will do to stay within the circle. How these feelings of jealousy and ‘loyalty’ tear them apart, introduce fissures, and a feeling of uncertainty. The ways in which love and loyalty should not come with strings attached. With punishment, rules, and obedience.
I wish the ending didn’t feel so hastily wrapped up. I felt like towards the middle of Mercury Boys the story shifts from being about the actual historical fiction scenes and more towards the friendship group. Which I didn’t mind at all, I just felt like there were a few lingering questions and plot points from that story line that were wrapped up quickly. Which is why I decided that Mercury Boys fell more into the contemporary genre, as a lot of the conflict is centered in our present time.
That being said, I definitely enjoyed the positives immensely, I just wish there had been a bit more space at the end. Mercury Boys is unique and Prasad is adept at creating this terror in the pit of your stomach. How dancing with danger exists both in traveling back to the past as well as the relationships we surround ourselves with in the present. Mercury Boys is a story about finding the pieces of ourselves to advocate for the relationship and respect we deserve.