- STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news… Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie. After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives. Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.
2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: At the very beginning, i was not really intrigued by When We Believed in Mermaids – quite a number of things bothered me to a point that I found the book a bit awkward and not genuine: the 1st person storytelling did not excite me, beause we learned certain things about the characters in a rather unnatural way, the dialogue was unnatural as well, there were additions to the story that were unnecessary and certain sentence structures simply made me giggle, because they were written in such an amateur way, though this might have been a “lost in translation” problem.
As I went along, I noticed improvement (or I simply got used to the things that bothered me, who knows) and I started gulping up the book, reading like crazy. I liked the jumps between the present time (the timeline where Kit looks for Josie, who turns out to be alive and living with a new name “Mari”) and the past (the timeline of their childhood) and I simply loved the shifts of perspectives between Kit and Kit’s sister. I found this in particular to be written in a very neat way – it was quite eye opening to be able to see their childhood from two different sets of eyes, with Kit growing up in better circumstances than Josie did, even though they are sisters who were living together. The story shows us that 1) every family has their skeletons and 2) every human being has their own thoughts and feelings, we all develop differently and we all face different consequences.
When We Believed in Mermaids seems to be a mash of genres that I’d name from young adult to crime and romance. I usually really dislike two things: mash of genres and sex scenes. However, the first is rather exciting – I love my crime and I swear by this genre, but O’Neal dances around cleverly and successfully with romance and crime. The sex scenes – there is quite a number of them in this story – did not bother me, even though they can get a bit descriptive/graphic, but I found that to be an interesting addition to the story – the exploration of sex in particular, given the fact that O’Neal brushes upon both healthy, passionate sex, and abuse of it.
Abuse is a very important element of this book and so is addiction – it’s the two topics that can be very heavy to read about and I believe they’re the reason why this fiction has received a lot of black and white comments. I have to say I found myself to be a little bit grey: perhaps I hate that I loved it.
I believe addiction is an illness and I believe there is a big part of addiction that we do not understand, especially not those people who have never faced addiction, either directly or indirectly. If you have never known an addict and if you tend to not be exactly empathetic in life in general, it is very hard to understand a big portion of this book. It is hard to understand why O’Neal writes certain characters the way she has written them – so black and white. A lot of characters in this book are the characters we love, we root for, we hope and dream for, but they end up disappointing us, because they do not, can not, know better.
Depicting one character in particular – Dylan, who is the boy that grew up with Josie and Kit. Dylan is an insanely black and white character. He is the boy that acts like an older brother, a mentor, a parent to some degree. He is the character that gets praised and loved by Josie and Kit – he is even described as “Merman.”He is idolised. He is out of this world amazing! But, he also makes catastrophic mistakes, constantly pushes toward his personal demise and is ultimately mentally darker than any other character. He is black and white. He is an addict. And he does things in such a way that shows you that he does not, can not, know better.
Sometimes I hated O’neal for the way she has written Dylan. Sometimes I hated her for the way she has written other addicts in the book, who I loved and who “let me down.” But I understood what the point was: to point out that addiction is no doubt a disease and it can (and will) steal the people we love and turn them into something we do not understand. Even they do not understand it, it is such a heavy thing.
And so, I have to say I hate I loved When We Believe in Mermaids, because I would have written certain things differently if this was my book, I would have implicated less tragedy and give more characters a happy ending, but then this book wouldn’t be what it is and it wouldn’t have been an eye-opening lesson. I truly believe I learnt a lot as I saw Kit, Josie AND Dylan growing up in front of my eyes, as they faced with addiction, love and sex and abuse, loss and grief, but also undeniable happiness and hope.
3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? For the very first time, this is very hard for me to answer. I would have recommended this to anybody still “growing up”, anybody eager to learn and open up their mind. I would not recommend it to people who are close-minded, controlling and who expect only one thing from this book – a crime story that gives you answers. When We Believe in Mermaids is a lot of things packed into one and it isn’t for everyone, but if it is for you, it is going to be an absolutely wonderful read you just won’t forget about so soon.
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