Set against the backdrop of Caribbean folklore, Lisa Stringfellow's spellbinding middle grade debut tells of a grieving girl and a vengeful mermaid and will enchant readers who loved Kacen Callender's Hurricane Child or Christian McKay Heidicker's Scary Stories for Young Foxes.
Ever since her mother's death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as "mermaid's tears," that sparkle on the Caribbean beaches of St. Rita. So when Kela and her friend Lissy stumble across an ancient-looking comb in a coral cave, with all she's already lost, Kela can't help but bring home her very own found treasure. Far away, deep in the cold ocean, the mermaid Ophidia can feel that her comb has been taken. And despite her hatred of all humans, her magic requires that she make a bargain: the comb in exchange for a wish. But what Kela wants most is for her mother to be alive. And a wish that big will exact an even bigger price...
In her debut, a folkloric fantasy set in Caribbean-inspired island St. Rita, Stringfellow manifests magic strong enough to grant the wish of a grieving heart. Twelve-year-old artisan Kela Boxhill, who is Black, copes with her grief about her mother’s death by turning sea glass into jewelry. When Kela hears a hum in the wind one day that leads to a sinkhole in a protected (and off-limits) nature park, she finds a battered box that "breathed a strangeness she couldn’t shake," and, inside, a comb that she believes-based on her mother’s stories of the island-could be magical. Mermaid Ophidia, the box’s owner, becomes enraged when the box is taken, knowing that its absence could lead to her death. But lore requires that Ophidia grant Kela a wish in exchange for the comb, posing a moral quandary that’s further complicated when the comb breaks. Stringfellow brings a fantastical approach to one character’s processing of grief as, with the support of secondary characters, Kela begins to truly navigate her pain while unearthing the stories and lore that are her heritage. Ages 8-12.
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Stringfellow’s middle-grade debut is a wondrous and original story that incorporates Caribbean culture and folklore. Told in alternating points of view between Kela and Ophidia, the novel leads us through a story about family that spans hundreds of years and will captivate readers until the end.