When We Believed in Mermaids – A Review

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some books are plot-driven and some are character-driven. I’d say ‘When we believed in mermaids’ is both and neither. This book is a mood. It’s a story of sisters torn apart by terrible childhoods but brought together by the sea and the memories they share. It’s not about what happened or why it happened. It’s about how they dealt with it and rose above it.

The only reason I picked this book was that I wanted to read a sad book and this was available on Kindle Unlimited. I didn’t have much hope. At first, the narrative style – flashbacks, running sentences, poetic descriptions, and ‘Roshomon’ type retellings of the same memory – felt aggravating to me. This, on top of the unrelatable characters, had me considering abandoning the book.

But once I realized that this book is not about finding the sister that everyone thought was dead but being on this journey of closure with them, each and every page captured me completely. Then, their hobbies and obsessions that I couldn’t relate to like surfing, hiking, being a doctor or an architecture junkie, became windows through which I could understand the characters and their growth better. They rely on these obsessions, almost like a drug, to help them through difficult times.

The way they are always drawn towards the sea was the most realistic portrayal of people’s love for a place. The places we visit leave a great impression on us. The places we suffer in never leave us.

I was reading the last few chapters through my tears. This book rips your heart out and pushes you off the ledge into a vast ocean of sadness, then jumps in at the right time like an ER doctor turned lifeguard to save you (you’ll get this reference if you read the book).

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