Meet the Maine Coast through the eyes of a teen


Trapped: deep waters, darker secrets / Brook Merrow. 9781633813632
Publisher Maine Authors Publishing, Thomaston, Me. 2023.

One of the perks of being an avid reader and book reviewer is that other writers find me from time to time and ask if I’m willing to review one of their books. Sometimes I discover a gem and Trapped is one of them, so I’m sharing it with YAOTL readers.


My review:

Ethan Olsen freezes up every time his grandfather's death is mentioned, but the trauma lives on inside him, making his life sometimes feel like a minefield. He lives with his parents and older brother who has gotten a full ride at Harvard. Dad is a lobsterman, like Gramps was, but he and his wife want better for their sons.

When older brother Ben starts acting odd and seems moody, Ethan isn't certain what's going on. Then Ben disappears and immediately after, Connor, a summer resident befriended by Ben, whose father is cold and very wealthy, is found floating in an abandoned granite quarry. If Ben's sudden disappearance wasn't enough, a series of threats to the Olsen family begin, starting with rotting bait strewn on their doorstep.

There is a dual escalation of plot threads, one being why Ben vanished and where he went, the other being the threats to the Olsen family's lobstering. Add in an interesting budding romance between Ethan and Britney Campbell, a smart, slightly cynical, and driven girl who has her own baggage.

This story does a great job of letting most readers 'guess' the big secret early on while pulling them along to see the why of each piece of the tale, whether it's Ben's mystery, the reason for the threats to the Olsen lobstering entity, or the dynamics between Ethan and Britney. All are done to perfection and the minor players, the lobstering aspect, and the coastal setting are all extremely well crafted.

This is a great book for any library to own.

Brook in her own words:

    I like words. I like doing stuff outdoors and writing about it.
    Stoked about writing my first book ever—Trapped! A YA mystery/coming-of-age novel set in a lobstering village on the coast of Maine. A brother vanishes. A friend dies at the local quarry. Someone dumps rotten bait on the doorstep. And all Ethan Olsen wanted to do was skate through senior year without a hassle.
      Best job ever? Teaching middle-school writing/reading: Great books. Crazy kids. Hands-on projects. What more could one ask for?
      Favorite YA books: One of Us is Lying (I love mysteries); The Hate U Give (inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement); The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. (A funny and poignant National Book Award winner that often makes banned books lists. My eighth-graders loved it.)
      Freak the Mighty from way back has been speaking to me lately: “Books are like truth serum – if you don’t read, you can’t figure out what is real.” Right?
      My obsession? Crossword puzzles. I know, nerdish.
      Poetry? Yes! Check out Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.”
      Likes: Hiking, skiing, biking, swimming, reading, photography, DQ chocolate shakes, Ted Lasso, and tasteless movies.
      My family = 2 amazing boys + 1 incredible husband + 1 bird dog with the cutest little beard and a tuft of hair on top of her head.
      Where I live: Sometimes in an airplane hangar in Idaho and sometimes in Maine.
      Funnest fact: My family owned two summer hotels on the coast of Maine. For a kid, magical: elevator mischief, spacious games of hide-and-seek, and ice cream—lots of it.


John--What prompted Trapped?

Brook-Normally I’m a nonfictioneer, having worked as a journalist. But one day in a nonfiction workshop we decided to bust out and indulge in some imaginary character/scene building. That’s when I invented Ethan, Trapped’s protagonist, and Punch Harbor, his lobstering home on the Maine coast. I realized made-up stuff was way more fun than pure fact. I got some instructive and positive feedback, and just kept growing the plot. I am, as they say, a dedicated pantser.

 John-2-Tell me about the research. What was most surprising?

Brook-Even though I grew up on the coast and have eaten my fair share of lobsters, I really didn’t know squat about them. A generous lobsterman took me out on his boat where I spent my time measuring and banding lobsters and stuffing bait bags. I read many books, including two excellent ones: Colin Woodard’s The Lobster Coast and Trevor Corson’s The Secret Life of Lobsters. But don’t let me forget Burt Down, Deep-Water Man, surely my starter source all those years ago. Here’s something people don’t really think about: Maine lobstermen (lobstermen being gender-neutral) are conservationists. From v-notches to regulated shell size to breakaway lines, theirs is one of the world’s most sustainable fisheries. Now that’s impressive.

John-What's it like spending half the year living in an aircraft hanger?

Brook-Super fun! Because we’d spent some time living out West before moving back to Maine, we were searching for a foothold there. Housing prices were sky-high, like lots of places, but we got this great deal on a hangar. All we needed to do was add a bathroom, throw together a makeshift kitchen, and build a narrow platform running the width of the hangar for an upstairs. It’s sort of like living in a treehouse. And, yeah, my husband’s little Cessna is parked just off the kitchen.

 John-What surprised you while writing the story.

Brook-First, I was surprised by how much I liked and cared for my characters—all of them, even Sonny. As the book progressed, I felt I had a responsibility to them—not like it was an onus—just a responsibility to keep them true and authentic right through to the end. Something else that surprised me was how motivating writing a book is. I would look forward to the next step (or regression) each character took. Sometimes that was a mystery because I didn’t have a clue of what to do next. That’s when a writing group comes in handy. I also looked forward to revision; it’s like reworking a puzzle, fitting things back together in a more logical way, choosing just the right word. I’m a word junkie. But I’m not going to sugarcoat it: writing can be pure drudgery too.

John-The attempted sex between Ethan and Britney is something that probably happens a lot, but it's the first time I've seen it portrayed, any response from readers?

Brook-So far, no response. I welcome feedback, from kids, librarians, teachers, parents. Because of that scene, I’d say the book is more for 8th grade through high school. I intended that scene to be amusing, but now I think, How tone deaf could you be? Our society is hysterical about controlling what kids read, and you just wrote a book that could be censored. I should’ve been more sensitive (and experienced) and just eliminated it or rewritten it in vague terms. However, I do believe teen YAs are definitely and age appropriately thinking about sex.

 John-What's next?

Brook-It’s one thing to write a book. It’s another thing to market it. Social media and signings and traveling and making connections take up a ton of time. In my ideal world, I will begin Britney and Ethan’s next adventure, this time with Britney in the lead. Maybe something about a genetics internship at a famous lab or a forensics major at a nearby college mixed in with a mishap on an abandoned trail in a national park and a wealthy yet evil benefactor who lives in a huge summer mansion on an island in Maine…



  1. Living in an aircraft hangar! And that is so true about writing being both absolutely wonderful and pure drudgery at times. Congrats on the release!


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