Desert Isle Keeper
When We Believed in Mermaids
In the fall of 2014, I fell in love with an utterly charming novel called The All You Can Dream Buffet. Since that time, author Barbara O’Neal has been on my radar, and while her books aren’t auto buys for me, I almost always end up reading them eventually. Her latest novel, When We Believed in Mermaids, is truly spectacular, a true testament to the unbreakable bonds between sisters and the healing power of love in all its many forms.
It’s been fifteen years since Kit last saw her older sister Josie. The two had been estranged for several years before their last meeting, and they never got the chance to mend fences because Josie died in a terrorist attack in Paris not long afterwards. Ever since that day, Kit has done her best to move on from the various horrors of her past – and believe me when I say she lived through some truly horrendous things. Her life is going well for the most part, though she’ll always bear some scars, both physical and mental, as a result of what she and Josie endured as children.
One evening, Kit catches a glimpse of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Josie in the background of a news story out of New Zealand. Obviously, the woman can’t be Josie since she’s been dead for years, but something about the woman’s face keeps nagging at Kit, and so, against her better judgement, she decides to journey to New Zealand in hopes of discovering the identity of the woman who looks so much like her sister.
Unfortunately for Kit, learning the truth proves more difficult than she hoped it would be. The city she’s staying in is beautiful, and it brings numerous childhood memories, some good and some painful, flooding back. Suddenly, Kit wonders if uncovering this woman’s identity is really worth all the mental anguish she’s suffering, but she figures she’s come too far to turn back now.
What follows is a story that is sure to break your heart, but also make you smile. It sounds like a contradiction of the first order I know, but When We Believed In Mermaids made me feel so many different things all at the same time. Kit and Josie lived through some horrible things, and my heart broke for them again and again, but there’s also a glimmer of hope that shines through all the sadness, something that reminds the reader that good things are always possible even when life seems incredibly bleak.
The story is told from alternating chapters, from both Kit’s and a woman calling herself Mari’s, perspectives. It’s not a spoiler to let you know that Mari is actually Josie, who faked her own death and is living under an assumed name for reasons that will become clear as you read. Both women have inner demons to conquer, and each is forced to reconnect with a core of inner strength they haven’t had to call upon in years. I loved that they were able to save themselves, rather than waiting for the men in their lives to sweep in and rescue them.
If you’re looking for a steamy read, this is not the book for you. It definitely has romantic elements, and the characters do get their HEAs, but the romance takes a back seat to the complex relationship between Mari and Kit. There is one explicit sex scene, but even it doesn’t qualify as steamy in my opinion.
The novel possesses a very strong sense of place, something I’m always happy to run across. The descriptions are so vibrant, making me feel like I was experiencing the sights and sounds right along with the characters. I’ve never been to New Zealand, but reading this book gave me a taste of what it might be like to visit.
I loved pretty much everything about When We Believed in Mermaids. The characters are so damaged but so resilient at the same time, and the writing is beautiful and lush, enabling me to sink into the story with ease. If you’ve never read a Barbara O’Neal novel, or even if you have, pick this up as soon as you possibly can. You’ll be delighted with this compelling story of two women struggling to come out on top of difficult circumstances.