Alice at Heart
One chilly February morning as Alice Riley takes her daily swim in the lake by her mountain cabin, two things happen to change her life. First, she hears the scream of a small child, the granddaughter of the state governor, whose life Alice saves from drowning. Secondly, as she races across the lake, she sees a vision of a man in a scuba suit, bloody and tattered and drowning. Alice tells him to breathe, and even though he’s thousands of miles away and below the surface of the ocean, he hears her and breathes.
That man is Griffin Randolph, the heir to a shipping fortune. He’s been afraid of the ocean ever since he was a small child and lost his parents in a boating accident. So he challenges the ocean by excavating sunken ships, which is what he was doing off the coast of Spain when a ship exploded, nearly killing him. If it weren’t for the mysterious vision of a woman named Alice telling him to breathe he’d be dead. Not understanding the apparition or his ability to breathe underwater, he thinks he’s losing his mind and decides to go home to Bellemeade, Georgia to recuperate.
On an island just off the coast of Bellemeade, the three Bonavendier sisters make preparations for two homecomings. First, there is Griffin’s. He is the son of their Scottish cousin Undiline and Porter Randolph. They were his godmothers, but since popular opinion is that they were responsible for Undiline and Porter’s deaths, they haven’t seen him in years.
More importantly, they prepare for the return of Alice, their long-lost half sister. They had been told she died at birth and was buried with her mother. The newspaper article about Alice’s rescue of the governor’s grandchild lets them know she’s alive, and they rush to bring her home to Sainte Point Island. Alice has a lot of reason to be distrustful of people, but she wants to believe these three stunning women are her family – until they tell her that, like her, they are also mermaids.
So begins a moving and beautiful story about self-discovery, family, and acceptance. As always, Smith brings to life unique and eccentric characters in such a way you believe they’re real, even if they are mermaids.
The Bonavendier sisters – Lilith, Mara, and Pearl – embody the traits of the mermaids (or Water People, as they prefer to be called). They are women of extreme beauty and grace, but fully human, no fins or tails, just webbed feet and unique abilities that differentiate them from Landers (ordinary people). In many ways they overwhelm Alice, both in the story and in the readers’ attention. It’s almost more exciting to follow their tales of lost love, revenge, and sorrow than it is to watch Griffin and Alice falling in love.
Griffin also overshadows Alice in many ways, with his need to discover the truth behind his parents’ death and himself. He has been daring the ocean to kill him for years, but at the same time, in some corner of his heart, he knows it is where he is most at home. When Alice enters his life he starts to acknowledge his own differences and eccentricities.
As the title character Alice should’ve held my attention. At the beginning, she did. Raised in a backwoods mountain town in northern Georgia, she was called Odd Alice for her strange webbed feet and eating habits. She pulled away from the taunting world and tried to hide. Her journey of self-discovery in the beginning of the book gets lost somewhere along the way as the focus shifts from Alice to what happened to Griffin’s parents and her sisters’ role in it all. It is that loss of Alice as a compelling character that keeps this tale from being a DIK.
I really loved this story and look forward the next book in the Waterlillies series, especially if means we get to see the Bonavendiers again. For anyone who is a fan of Smith’s previous works I highly recommend this book.