A water-loving girl struggles to find her place on land in this novel.
Growing up in Grand Haven, Michigan, by the shores of the titular lake, Elise Faulkner is shy and withdrawn, much to the chagrin of her ex–beauty queen mother. Despite the former Miss Coast Guard’s efforts to help Elise make local friends, she prefers to stay home reading or writing to one of her international pen pals, like Fabrice Nwanko, the Ghanian schoolgirl who reveals her uncle’s encounter with a mermaid. Elise is fascinated by mermaids because of her scandalous great-grandmother Margaret Stieg, a wreck diver who claimed her life was saved by one when her oxygen was cut off during an underwater mission to retrieve a sunken diamond ring. Elise’s quiet, dreamy life changes when her mother introduces her to world-traveling, cigarette-smoking Chiara. As the two girls become fast friends, bonding over vintage fashion and playing hooky at the beach, Elise discovers she’s inherited some of Margaret’s daring after all—especially after meeting Miguel Ballesteros, a Roma carnival worker and flamenco guitarist who tells her, “I’m your destiny.” Will their romance lure her away from the lake—and the people—she loves? And will the darkness of Miguel’s future sweep Elise under with it? While Elise remains a fairly passive character throughout the narrative, Kamata (The Beautiful One Has Come, 2015, etc.) pulls off the difficult trick of writing a book that’s thoughtful and slow-paced without overexplaining or making the story plodding. Her writing is clear and confident, with an eye for vivid details—“dormer windows like lidded eyes” or “one round little pea...like a jewel.” She unfortunately uses the term “Gypsy” in place of “Roma” more than once, and Miguel’s air of mystery may read as stereotypical. But readers carried along by Elise’s tale will find themselves wanting more.
A lyrical, compelling coming-of-age story with magical elements.