Best friends Emily and Levi are watching the sunrise on the beach early one morning when they notice a silver pickup in the sea. Both dive underwater, emerging with an injured creature — one that strangely resembles a member of the mythical merfolk.
Emily and Levi take the creature home where they luckily have a private beach and in the time it takes the creature to heal, they feed him and teach him to speak. Emily and Levi learn that the creature’s name is Kato and that he is not the only one of his kind. However, when Kato attempts to return to his family, he is violently rejected and instead, he goes back home with Emily and Levi. Whilst the humans — joined by Emily’s girlfriend, Charlotte — go back to school and work, Kato learns about their world from watching videos on an iPad.
The four of them create their own version of normalcy, giving Levi and Kato time to develop their relationship — until the bubble they have created is popped.
I chose That Doesn’t Belong Here for this week’s Judge a Book By It’s Cover reading challenge not because I liked the cover, but because I didn’t. I have never been a fan of cartoon-type covers on books, but actually, the childlike nature of this drawing captures Dan Ackerman’s story perfectly and I am grateful to the reading challenge for allowing me to find a book that was unique, interesting, and absorbing.
Ackerman’s writing style is basic, but effective. There are no convoluted descriptions of the sea, sky, or the longing glances Levi and Kato exchange, nor did I want that. That Doesn’t Belong Here is a story about outsiders. Emily is a lesbian who fails to fit in with her Hollywood parents; Charlotte is an autistic lesbian who struggles with social communication and change; Levi is pansexual, Jewish, and of a softer body type than the average gay romance protagonist; and Kato is — well, a gay merman. I absolutely loved the fact that Ackerman celebrates the characters’ differences, making them completely relatable, though perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel is the way in which Ackerman encourages the reader to be innocent. Merfolk are usually the subject of fantasy stories, but I felt my disbelief was suspended here and that there was nothing unusual about this romance between Levi and Kato in contemporary California.
Ackerman tackles important issues during That Doesn’t Belong Here, including Levi’s confused feelings and the consequences of his forced ‘coming out’ to his family, as well as the environmental issues that arise from Kato’s existence. Yet, I think Ackerman succeeds in provoking the readers’ thoughts the most when Kato is kidnapped. I do not want to say too much about this part of the story, but the effects of these events on Kato’s physical and mental well-being are distressing to witness.
The romance in That Doesn’t Belong Here develops from a friendship and everything that happens between Levi and Kato feels natural, despite the difference in their species.
That Doesn’t Belong Here taught me that I should never judge a book by its cover! This is a sweet novel and though there are several loose ends that I would like to see resolved, I found it enjoyable and I would recommend it to others.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack from Interlude Press that includes a signed, print copy of Not Your Villian by C.B. Lee, plus e-book copies of some of their award-winning books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.