In this middle-grade fable, an intelligent and empathetic preteen is enlisted to help a mermaid fix her “wrong tail.”
Twelve-year-old Samantha Ford knows she’s lucky to live a privileged life in Manhattan with her war hero–turned-lawyer father and her beautiful, glamorous mother—even if her mother often discourages her from certain things because, according to her, “Nothing will come of it.” Sam was born with club feet, but she has made the most of her condition thanks to her beloved nurse, Nana. Now, it’s the family’s first summer vacation on Nantucket since Sam’s mother forced Nana to retire, and Sam decides to take surfing lessons. However, the instructor sends Sam out to sea, all the way to Bermuda, where she washes up in a cove with a mermaid named Lori. Lori was born with a “wrong tail,” one that resembles that of a swordfish more than a dolphin, and she needs Sam’s help to cast a spell that will change it into a normal tail; otherwise, she’ll be ostracized and forced to live in a faraway colony with other “wrong tails.” Sam and Lori embark on adventures that include rescuing sea turtles, retrieving pearls from sirens and journeying to an underwater volcano to cast the spell. Author Horst (Allingham: Desperate Ride, 2013, etc.) has a surprisingly good ear for what a precocious preteen girl sounds like, and she fills the novel with long passages of narration in Sam’s smart, self-assured voice: “Good gums are what you’re after when you brush and floss. The rest is just icing on the cake. Well, maybe that’s not a good analogy, as neither icing nor cake is really good for your teeth.” Such quirkiness can come off as cartoonish or unrealistic, but Sam is a delight. Valuable lessons about accepting one’s differences, as well as those of the people around you, make this story an ideal beach read for young readers. One hopes Horst has further adventures planned for Sam.
A quirky tale of tails with an endearing narrator whom young girls would love to befriend.