A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow

A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 9780063043435

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Paperback ARC (published February 8th, 2022)

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book? This book features a well-crafted and relatable Black girl protagonist from the Caribbean. Still grieving over the loss of her mother three months ago, Kela shuts everyone away, including both her father and best friend, Lissy. One day while on the beach, Kela finds a mystical sea comb. This comb belongs to the mermaid Ophidia, who is desperate to have it back, or else her soul is forfeit. To prevent this, Ophidia strikes a deal: Kela can make any wish, and the mermaid will grant it. In exchange, she must return the comb to the ocean. Hopeful, Kela wishes for her mother back, and the next day her mother appears as if she never had a car accident. However, two things prevent Kela from returning the comb. First, it breaks in half, dooming Ophidia to a slow death. Second, because of diving laws on St. Rita, Kela’s dad takes the comb away to avoid legal repercussions. With a vengeful mermaid fast approaching, Kela has to figure out how to return the comb to the sea while also figuring out why her mother is acting unusual. She only succeeds by opening up to the love of her family, including her father, Lissy, and the other islanders.

Inspired by Caribbean folklore, this book tells a story about loss, grief, and learning how to say goodbye. The reader will switch between two viewpoints, watching as Kela and Ophidia each desperately try to save their own lives. The descriptions of St. Rita and its magic feel natural, and scenes in the contemporary world and the mermaid world balance each other. What really drives the story is Kela’s well-written character. Like anyone who lost someone prematurely, she wants her mother back, but she also realizes the consequences of her wish. Kela is an intelligent and brave protagonist with faults that she acknowledges and overcomes, changing from a girl who wants to keep herself happy to someone who helps others be happy. Familial love is the main theme of this book.  

Anything you didn’t like about it? No!

To whom would you recommend this book?  Readers who like folklore-inspired fantasy in contemporary settings. Anyone who liked The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste will also like this book (both have Caribbean mermaids).

Who should buy this book? Public libraries and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Boston Arts Academy, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Date of review: December 27, 2021

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