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The Mermaid Upstairs

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Yesterday 16-year-old Emily’s mother was a high-powered attorney. Today she is a mermaid. While the car accident they were in left Emily relatively unscathed, her mother is just not the same. She doesn’t care about court cases and keeps talking about her missing tail.
But life doesn’t stop when you’re in the midst of a family crisis. Emily continues with school and falling in love for the first time, all while taking care of her little sister, who starts to believe their mother is part water nymph.
Ultimately, Emily has to make the toughest decision of her life. Does she keep her mermaid mother landlocked in Nebraska or take her to the Pacific Ocean as promised? Either way, Emily fears she may lose her mother forever.

250 pages, Paperback

Published June 28, 2018

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Jami Lilo

3 books36 followers

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5 stars
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45 (32%)
3 stars
32 (23%)
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10 (7%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 40 reviews
Profile Image for TL .
1,789 reviews35 followers
January 22, 2019
I needed a palate cleanser after the book that failed me/I failed at yesterday. I was scrolling through my kindle app looking for something shorter and possibly a light read. I stopped on this one, drawn in by the cover.. this time feeling that hook in my gut that said "read me now"

Confession: Actually forgot what this was about. Didn't take long to refresh my memory once I started though.

This was a beautiful story of the family dealing with Nora thinking she's a real life mermaid. I wanted to hug them all (and more than once smack Emily even though I understood why she felt that way ) and help them but glad at the same time I was only a spectator.

It makes you think how easily something could happen and you or someone you love can be changed... not remember you/who they are. Made me want to hug my mom a little tighter. How helpless/frustrated one can feel.. wanting to fix things but realizing it won't be that easy.

There were some bonding moments between the family throughout all this that were beautiful, and I was glad they had some good moments even though their lives were turned upside down.

Emily's Gran were awesome... so were Kessia and Tia.

Only complaints I have:
Jose... didn't care for him as a love interest. He didn't redeem himself at the end in my eyes.

The ending: it was good but over too quickly. I would liked to see more in certain regards, rather than how it was done. It and the epilogue did have me smiling in a few places though.

Would recommend.
Profile Image for Odin.
52 reviews
February 6, 2023
Being a grown up is hard. Sometimes we’d rather be a mermaid.

This novel touches the topics of mental health, over exhaustion, trauma, family drama, and more. Although there may be no “real” mermaids in this book, there is plenty of magic. A fantastic read for those looking for a fun fiction about mother-daughter relationships and generational healing.

You may not like the mermaid at first, but like Emily, you’ll eventually start to love her.
Profile Image for The Distracted Bee.
415 reviews61 followers
March 25, 2019
I was “hooked” on the premise/ synopsis immediately (did you catch that one?).

I’m looking for more fiction about mental health, and this definitely fits the bill!

Some qualms I have (I will keep it vague because, spoilers...):
1) the Jose thing was confusing and not resolved to my satisfaction, and not relevant, maybe?
2) the way-too-many chapter breaks! This may sound trivial, but I found it distracting and unnecessary (61 chapters!? And one was 2 pages? Grumble...)

Some psalms I have (not really, just tryin’ to be rhyme... ‘n...)
1) I really identified with Emily’s codependent nature/ trying to fix everyone and not helping herself
2) I too tried to be anonymous in school, as the alternative can truly suck
3) the pretty realistic reaction of a 16 year-old trying to keep her life together in the face of family upheaval
4) the topic of mental breaks and the fallout for those affected (grieving, loss, acceptance)

Overall I think it was a good story to explore, but maybe could dive a little deeper... bah ha ha! No but, really.

If you have any rec’s for fiction + mental health, I’m all ears! Ready to be schooled... preferable not with fish puns (even though I deserve them!). Man. Now all I can think about is sushi...
Profile Image for Sammy.
279 reviews20 followers
August 30, 2019
I liked the premise of it, but this book is just not for me. It's not in my taste and therefore I don't want to give it a review because 1) I didn't finish it and 2) it just doesn't speak to me. I'm sure this book has found it's audience with other people and I hope those people love it. Therefore I will not be giving a star review because that's not fair to the author or the readers.

A+ for originality though - definitely did not see how this story was going to go!
Profile Image for Ankur.
264 reviews3 followers
April 9, 2019
I adored this book. I bought this for my 10 year old niece and my mom, and all three of us devoured this book. I recommend this for all, a joyous read.

Profile Image for Christina McMullen.
Author 27 books284 followers
October 23, 2018
This was a fun and heartwarming read. I admit the protagonist wasn't always the easiest to like, but there was definite character development that made for an endearing tale.
Profile Image for cathy.
195 reviews6 followers
September 2, 2018
I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. However, all opinions presented here are my own.

I'm going to start out by saying this: The Mermaid Upstairs is, by far, the best book I've read in all of 2018. And if you don't believe me, go check out my ratings for everything else I've read this year. This book was absolutely phenomenal.

Now, onto the review.

What drew me to this book in the first place was the stunning cover, and its title. I'm a sucker for anything pink with the mention of "mermaids." The Mermaid Upstairs is about a teenage girl named Emily, who's in a car accident with her mother, Nora. Nora then becomes Nora The Mermaid, convinced she's from the Pacific Ocean with no memory of how she "ended up" in Nebraska. She also has no memory of her children, and thinks her husband is actually a pirate who rescued her.

I loved every single character in this novel. Emily is our main voice, and she threw me for a loop. She's a very mature voice for her age, but it's no wonder why. Her mother is (rather, was) a very no-nonsense attorney, whom Emily always addressed by her first name, instead of calling her "mother." Emily is, in her own words, "a goodie-goodie" who always follows the rules, has perfect attendance and high grades at school, and is content being in the background and invisible to everyone else. Minus calling her mother by her first name, Emily reminded me of myself a lot during high school.

Now that her mother believes she's a mermaid, Emily isn't sure what to do. She has her own problems: her crush at school finally noticing her being her major one. She isn't equipped to handle her mother acting this way, and just wants everything to return to normal. I think it's easy to relate to Emily; she was a very intriguing character with a lot of emotion. I think it could be easy to judge her at first glance, but really, what would any of us do in a situation like that? Especially being a teenager? I don't think there's really a straight answer for that question.

Nora herself is just a whirlwind and I loved her. Emily's younger sister, Amy, was also a great, well-rounded character herself. I think Jami Lilo did a great job capturing the innocence of a nine-year-old who really believes her mother is a mermaid, but wants her old mother back at the same time. Nora's husband, Bart, is someone I wasn't a fan of until the end of the book; I think he grows on you, but there were times I think he should've cared more about what his wife was going through, and what his kids were going through, while dealing with it himself... Like I said, he grows on you.

Then there's José, Emily's crush. He's a popular boy at school that Emily has always liked, and when they're thrown together for a group project in English class, Emily thinks this is her chance to be with him. I don't want to spoil anything about them, but I have to say he was another character I didn't find myself caring for much either. I loved him at first, but I think he turned into a jerk, until the end. Emily could have done better.

There's so many other characters I'm not even mentioning. Emily's best friend Kessia; her neighbor, Fred; her grandmother. All of them were incredible.

One thing important about this book is the question it poses: if someone doesn't look sick on the outside, are they still sick? The obvious answer to this is yes, and this is something Emily comes to learn along the way, with a little help. And with that, she also learns who her mother really is, and who she is too.

Of course, you have to be critical of the things you love, and here is my biggest critique: I really don't like how the accident that turns Nora into a mermaid is portrayed. I was expecting something that would be heartwrenching (especially as someone who lost a family member in a car accident.) Instead, it just... happens at the end of the prologue. In a few sentences, and then it's over, and that was a bit disappointing to me. Also, I wish more time had been dedicated to the ending,
Profile Image for Cristiann.
57 reviews
August 16, 2018
*** First of all I’d like to thank the author, Jami Lilo, for providing me with a paperback copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. ***

And now for the actual review ... oh my goodness, I just LOVED this book. I can’t remember the last time I read something that I enjoyed so much. I’ve had a real hard time connecting with young adult heroines in recent years, so I had my doubts about reading another YA book at this point. However, the reviews for this one were so positive and I’ve always loved mermaids and mother/daughter stories, so I decided to give “The Mermaid Upstairs” a chance. I’m so happy that I did! :)



1. Emily is a wonderful main character. Even though I’m actually 12 years older than her, I found that she was surprisingly easy to relate to. Emily comes across as a very real and genuine person, she has flaws and makes mistakes like any human being would, but she still tries to be a good person. I loved reading things from her perspective.

2. Everyone in Emily’s family is amazing. They all felt like real people to me. Nora (The Mermaid) is a treasure. Bart (The Pirate) is kinda great too. Granted there were times when I completely understood Emily’s pain and frustration with both her mother’s mental health issues and her father’s (at times a bit questionable) way of handling it, but I also felt a lot of love and sympathy for them too. I feel like it was a very difficult situation for everyone involved. I also really loved Emily’s relationship with her little sister and her best friend at school.

3. This book is very well written imo. The chapters are short but they never felt lacking or rushed to me. The story moves along at a very nice pace, and once I was able to actually sit down and start reading, I was almost immediately hooked to it. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a wonderful stand alone book and there’s something in here for everyone imo. Also, the book cover is simply gorgeous. Jami Lilo’s debut is a great one and I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future.

4. Most of the characters (and their relationships to each other) are very well fleshed out. The most important dynamic in “The Mermaid Upstairs” is the mother/daughter one between Nora and Emily. I felt like Jami Lilo did an excellent job at writing and portraying a character (plus a family dealing with someone) who has a mental illness. All while also adding touches of love, humor and magic to the story. Even in 2018 mental illness is still a difficult subject to talk about but I think it was handled very well here. I’m so glad we’re becoming more and more comfortable with discussing these important issues.


1. The only thing that I didn’t care much for in this book was the romance between Emily and José. I mean, I understand it was important that the story have some romance. Poor Emily is only 16 and she deserves to have some fun in her life too, but I never really liked or trusted him. I don’t feel like he was worthy of her affections and I kept hoping some other sweet guy would come along for her to fall for instead. That never happened but it’s okay ... their relationship isn’t that particularly important in the book. Like I said before, the main focus in “The Mermaid Upstairs” is Emily’s relationship with her mother and the struggles/challenges that their family faces due to Nora’s illness.


*** mild spoilers ***

I do have some mixed feelings about the ending, though. For the most part, I loved it and I’m happy everything ended on a hopeful note for everyone. Still, a part of me didn’t want Nora (The Mermaid) to go back to “normal”. In real life some people never go back to “normal” when an accident occurs or after they become ill, so there was a part of me that wished we could’ve seen things end a bit more realistically. Still, I do love a happy ending and I’m glad Nora was given a second chance to be herself again.

All in all, I’d say “The Mermaid Upstairs” deserves 4.5 stars! It’s easily become a new favorite of mine! I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. I highly recommend to everyone. Thanks again, Jami! :)
Profile Image for Joana Hill.
Author 14 books21 followers
February 17, 2019
The Mermaid Upstairs might seem like a fantasy from the title, but it's anything but. This is the story of a girl and her family, and her mother's struggle. After a car accident, Nora hits her head and suddenly, she's an entirely different person- or rather, mermaid. This story is about struggle and, to an extent, mental illness.

Generally this is a really good book. The characters are likable even when they do bad things. Emily struggles realistically with accepting her new mermaid mother, and even when she messes up, she feels bad about it afterwards and you can tell she loves and respects her mother, despite the complaints she had about her, both pre and post mermaid. Amy,, the younger sister, is both painfully her age and wise beyond her years. Their father is just someone trying to hold his family together when he's suddenly a single parents, given that Nora absolutely is not fit to take care of them.

I also liked that Emily had a good head on her shoulders and was able to react to things reasonably rather than creating an entire thing about of it (other than once or twice when she was especially frustrated with her mother's mermaidness). A huge pitfall many YA books have is, in an effort to make their protagonist seem like a teenager, they go too far and make them whiny, helpless and unlikable.

So if I liked this book so much, why not a perfect rating? In my opinion, the book itself isn't perfect. One of the things I look at for rating is formatting, and it had formatting mistakes throughout, such as dialog, dialog tags, and forgetting to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks. It also glossed over some important points every now and then, and I feel like the fact that we didn't find out what was in the all-important case file that made her mother so upset takes away from the overall impact of the story.

Despite these shortcomings, though, this is definitely one I recommend, so happy reading!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bethany.
Author 22 books92 followers
May 14, 2019
When Emily and her mom are in an accident, her mom hits her head really hard and doesn't come out of it unscathed. Instead, she believes she is Nora the mermaid instead of Nora, Emily's mom. When she's assigned a project with her crush Jose, Emily is ecstatic. But with her mother's mental illness weighing her down, Emily struggles to find a balance between school and home.

Instead of being able to focus on normal things like her crush, Emily is forced to step up and help her dad take care of her mom, who insists that she's a mermaid. Emily is thrust into the role of the caregiver and has to take her mom to her doctor appointments, swim classes, and more. She can't help but feel angry at her mom and just wants her to return to normal. She tries everything she can think of, but it all fails.

THE MERMAID UPSTAIRS addresses mental health and the impact it can have on children. Emily's anger was understandable and the reader could see how tough it is to be in her shoes. Even though it seems like she's selfish, the truth is that she only wants everything to return to her normal. Nora the mermaid fully believed she was a mermaid and that she should be living in the Pacific Ocean. I've never read a book like this before, but it makes you look at those with mental illness in a whole different light.

Final Verdict: I would recommend this to fans of contemporary, sensitive topics like mental illness, and social and family issues.

This review can also be found on YABC: http://www.yabookscentral.com/yaindie...
September 22, 2018
Jami does an amazing job with a sensitive subject, teenage girls and their moms who are trying to be everything to everyone until it all falls apart. It's a lovely journey from selfishness to compassion with a hefty dose of whimsy thrown in for good measure. The characters are relatable and real with the qualities and flaws we all carry around with us in some measure. I was completely drawn into the story. The improbability of a grown woman believing with her whole heart that she's a mermaid who belongs in the sea was so perfectly wrought that when the explanation finally came, it was long after I'd already suspended disbelief and saw the mermaid in the woman.

Well done, Jami! I look forward to reading more from you.
Profile Image for Christina.
533 reviews3 followers
January 7, 2019
This book was truly fascinating a mixture of a disney channel movie and deep contemporary I enjoyed reading it. The main character was relatable to me but I can see why she wouldnt be to others because of how I have had to take care of my family at times, I appreciate the length of time that occurred in this story however realistically could have been longer. In addition, if you enjoy psychology and attorney jargon you are definitely going to enjoy this book. The romance that occurred and some events that occurred really did not seem necessary to me personally however I understand as a teen how they were important. Overall because of these points I have to give this book a 4 out of 5 stars anyone who enjoys mental health contemporaries and mermaids would enjoy this book in my opinion.
Profile Image for Jason.
Author 2 books22 followers
July 2, 2018
I really loved this story and was drawn in right away. I think Jami Lilo really nails the teenage mind and experience. This story fits squarely in the YA category. It was really easy to relate to Emily and share in her experiences. I can't recall a story that filled me with such a wide array of feelings: joy, humor, curiosity, sympathy, and some tears at the end. In an age of growing mental illness whether from life experiences, physical trauma, or both, this author offers something really special to readers - a chance to understand difficulty and challenge a trauma affecting the family from the vantage of a teen. I can't wait to see more stories from Jami Lilo!
Profile Image for anna angel.
19 reviews
September 4, 2018
I won a Kindle copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway, however my opinions are my own.

I have to say, although it was a slow start-up for me, this book reeled me in later throughout the book! It's funny. It's heart-warming. Man! It even made me mad right along with our protagonist at certain points in the story!

I went in thinking it was going to be a quirky coming-of-age tale about a young girl, but it turned out to be a wonderful story about a young girl and the relationship she has with her mother before AND after a life-changing event. I would definitely recommend this to young fans!
Profile Image for Ashley H.
5 reviews
August 27, 2018
Parts of the story moved a little slowly for me and Emily's relationship with José seemed unnecessary at times, but overall, I really enjoyed this book. It's an interesting look at a teenager's experiences and relationships with her family/friends while dealing with a parent going through mental health issues. Adding the mermaid element to the narrative lightened the mood and brought humor to the story of an otherwise tragic family crisis, making this a perfect YA novel or book for anyone looking for a heartwarming story.
Profile Image for Jim Sibigtroth.
410 reviews6 followers
March 27, 2019
This is a sort-of coming of age, romance novel for high school girls, and since I’m a 67 year old retired male, it isn’t exactly aimed at my demographic. It did appeal to my interest in offbeat strangeness (the whole mom thinks she is an actual real mermaid and all). I liked the story but I am a bit of a stickler for properly edited sentences so the occasional mistaken word choice errors (such as too for to) put me off a bit (it probably isn’t bad enough to bother the average reader). I would recommend this author to consider finding a better copy editor. The story was very well constructed.
Profile Image for J.
2 reviews5 followers
July 21, 2018
Entertaining and Easy Read

I found this book to be more interesting and deep than I had originally expected. While it was an easy read, it did bring into question some "life expectations" and encourage the reader to question societal norms. The high school love story was a bit gratuitous in that it wasn't really needed to drive the story forward, but overall I enjoyed the book and the message!
25 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2018
I won a kindle copy of this book from Goodreads. The story has potential, but for me the glaring grammatical and spelling errors were so distracting that I kept being pulled away from the story. It needs some thorough editing to fix not only those errors, but also to make the story more cohesive and coherent.
Profile Image for Daisy.
50 reviews
December 1, 2019
Read this book.as part of a mini book club for my daughter and I. At 10 yrs old I was afraid it would be too advanced for her but to my surprise it was not and we both LOVED the book! As well as talking about what we thought would happen next, how each character felt or was dealing with their current feelings. I adored every minute of this book!
Profile Image for Marina.
124 reviews3 followers
August 4, 2018
Fun Summer Read

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun summer read that I just could not put down. I am so glad that I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway and hope that we see more books from Jami Lilo.
Profile Image for Molly.
108 reviews
August 24, 2018
This was a fun book. I liked all of the main characters and the mother/daughter dynamic was well done. The story was a little slow at first but it picked up closer to the end.

I received a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program.
Profile Image for Holly L'Heureux.
297 reviews13 followers
September 5, 2018
I think this book was pretty good. It was fun to read and connect with the characters and i am glad to have won it from a goodreads giveaway. The only thing is I could not get as hooked on this book as I have with others. It's not that it was bad just not all encompassing.
Profile Image for Susan Barton.
Author 6 books93 followers
October 4, 2018
I guess I just wasn't as impressed with this book as most other reviewers were. I found it dragged, especially in the beginning. I did like the emphasis on the mother/daughter relationship. There were several typos that I felt ruined the book, however.
Profile Image for Katelyn.
87 reviews
November 23, 2018
I received a copy of this book through goodreads giveaways!
I'm not entirely sure what I expected out of this book, but it was overall a pretty good read. Yes, a little cheesy, the main character was a bit frustrating at times, but I also felt her frustration with the situations she was in.
27 reviews
November 10, 2019
I loved this book! The story of Nora 'checking out' of her life by becoming a mermaid was a clever concept. I enjoyed Emily's perspective of her mum changing, and the way Amy and Bart dealt with it.
An easy read.
Profile Image for Milky Mixer.
398 reviews9 followers
July 14, 2020
Quirky coming-of-age comedy meets nervous breakdown drama when a 16 year old girl's mother transforms into a mermaid. Or at least, she thinks she's a mermaid. Cute story but without the splash of magical realism I was expecting.
22 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2018
Thought provoking and fun

I loved how relatable Emily is in The Mermaid Upstairs. I can see my daughter being the same way in a few years.
1 review
August 21, 2018
This was such a neat book! It was an easy read but one that definitely kept you interested all the way through!
Profile Image for D.L. Hopkins.
Author 18 books54 followers
October 15, 2018

Insightfully silly. I loved the ideas presented, thought all the spelling and grammar errors were too bad, but figure it was an interesting way to tell s story.
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