This debut YA novel tells of a family coping with a mother’s firm belief that she’s a mermaid.
In Columbus, Nebraska, 16-year-old Emily Parker is driving with her mother, Nora, in the passenger seat. When another car rear-ends them, her mom hits her head. Soon after Nora is discharged from the hospital, she becomes frantic because, for some reason, she thinks she’s missing a tail—one that was “aqua and turquoise with flecks of gold in the sunlight.” She further insists that if she isn’t returned to the Pacific Ocean, she’ll die. There’s a long waiting list at the hospital, so Emily’s dad, Bart, does all he can to comfort Nora at home, including pretending to be the dashing pirate that his wife now believes him to be. Emily’s 6-year-old sister, Amy, loves Nora’s transformation, but the teen loathes it—and the additional responsibilities that it entails. She now has to drive Nora to therapy and swimming sessions when she’d rather work with her school crush, José Hernandez, on a Shakespeare project. As the family’s life becomes more hectic, other changes occur: Nora loses quite a bit of weight, and rekindles her relationship with Bart. However, when her personality change is imitated by others and becomes a phenomenon, Emily tries a new tactic to try to bring her mom back to her old self. Author Lilo’s YA fantasy is hilarious and touching, by turns, and it perfectly blends its teenage struggles with grown-up drama as it develops its characters. Nora, a no-nonsense Child Protective Services attorney, is described as never being able to relax because “She was too busy saving the world”; she’s also shown to have raised Emily with an awareness of her privilege, yet the girl “rarely [feels] comfortable” in her own skin. The author also weighs in on aspects of social media, which amplifies Nora’s problems. Lilo provides a memorable supporting cast throughout, including Emily’s rule-breaking grandmother and her 20-year-old swim coach, Tia. It all builds toward a suspenseful finale that respects the surrealism of the plot and the integrity of the characters.
An exuberant fantasy that earnestly explores its teen protagonist’s problems.