Sure enough, the sea woman will come for what’s hers.
Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the beaches of St. Rita. But when she discovers a different kind of treasure, she accidentally summons an actual mermaid—the wrathful Ophidia.
Ophidia makes Kela a bargain: her ancient comb, in exchange for a wish. And though Kela knows that what she wants most is her mother back, a wish that big will exact a dangerous price…
Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Her debut fantasy A Comb of Wishes is published by HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books and was released on February 8, 2022. It was selected as an ABA Indie Introduce title for Winter/Spring 2022 and an Indie Next Kids' title for March/April 2022. Lisa received the inaugural Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award in 2019 for the novel manuscript. Her work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. Lisa is a middle school teacher and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.
What a delightful, gem of a book! I kind of went into this book blind not really sure what to expect and I really ended up enjoying this. If you're a fan of Caribbean folklore especially those that involve mermaids, I think this one that you'll really end up enjoying. I received this title for review, but all thoughts are my own.
One of the first things that I noticed about A Comb of Wishes is the emphasis that Stringfellow placed on the tradition of oral storytelling. The actual structure of the story where the narrator states "crick crack --- this is a story" calls for audience involvement pulling the reader fully into the story. It centers around a young girl by the name of Keela who is trying to navigate the loss of her mother. While on the beach she finds a comb which belongs to a mermaid. In return for the comb, the mermaid promises to grant her one wish. Naturally, this wish and the future loss of the comb bring perilous consequences that Keela didn't expect. Stringfellow did an excellent job with the character development in this story where readers had the opportunity to not only get the perspective of Keela, but also the mermaid, Ophida. While Ophida's narrative comes off quite sinister (and believe me when I say it is rather dark), they have more in common than meets the eye especially in terms of grief.
One of the my favorite aspects of this book was the way in which the narrative dives into what it means to grieve and how we process grief. It's clear that Keela has a good relationship with her dad, but she's struggling with the regret of a comment she made to her mother right before she passed away. There's a lesson to be learned in how Keela thinks she should be dealing with her grief and how it naturally happens. Stringfellow develops a great supporting cast of characters that not only teach Keela what it truly means to be happy, but also serve as a great support system throughout the entirety of the novel. This book is definitely fantasy with some mysterious elements that worked well together. It's such a great introduction to Caribbean folklore, but not in a completely lighthearted manner which I appreciated. I would also say that it doesn't have the perfect conclusion, but the a conclusion that works best for all characters involved. This is a middle grade fantasy that I wouldn't recommend missing.
A heartfelt story with Carribean mythology, about mermaids and magical combs, 'being careful for what you wish for', and love and loss.
Told in alternating perspectives, this is a story about Lisa, a heartbroken girl still grieving the loss of her mother and a vengeful hundreds-year-old mermaid. When Lisa discovers the mermaid's comb, she is granted one magical wish - but little does she know, the wish will have terrible consequences.
The atmosphere and storytelling is wonderful. The story really takes us to the island where Lisa lives and how her family's life is very much about stories and the sea. You really feel like you are immersed in Lisa's community, where everyone knows each other. There are some mildly creepy moments when the mermaid's vengeance rears its head, making this an exciting story for younger readers. I also loved how the story utilises Carribean storytelling to pull readers in.
Recommended for younger readers who love a twist on mermaids and a story about loss.
I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A Comb of Wishes is a good book for fans of books like The Jumbies and Josephine Against the Sea. Like those books this book is set on a Caribbean island in a small village and follows a young girl who is grieving the loss of her mother.
It's been 3 months since the death of her mother and Kela no longer wants to do the things she once loved like diving with her dad and playing with her friend Lissy. Every day she replays the last argument she has with her mother in her head. It seems like she and pop are just going through the motions.
Kela knows she shouldn't take things from protected lands but when she comes across a strange box in the coral gardens she decides to take it home. She didn't expect to find an ancient comb which leads her to meeting Ophidia, the sea woman owner. Ophidia promises her a wish for the return of her comb and there's only one thing Kela wants most in the world. But things don't exactly go as planned and if Kela doesn't fix it she'll find herself being dragged down to the bottom of the sea!
I liked the darker tone this book took highlighting some of the more frightening characters in Caribbean folklore. Kela's grief over her mother was felt throughout and I liked the lesson of life not always going as planned but having your support system by your side to keep you going. It does something interesting by making the ancient mermaid one of the povs. I liked the little touches of island life on St. Rita though I wanted to see more. I also would've liked to see more of Kela's bond with her father though I understand she was pushing him away because of her grief.
This was such an enjoyable read. If you or the young person in your life enjoyed The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, I'd recommend this. Aside from both being set in the Caribbean, both stories feature young girls dealing with the death of their mothers as well as complex antagonists who embody natural forces. Ophidia was a great antagonist who simultaneously frightens and invokes sympathy.
This story is an experience! Engrossing, compelling, suspenseful, and deep. It pulled me into another world on multiple levels. I loved the atmosphere and world of St. Rita's and that of the magical ocean with a 300-year-old with an angry and creepy but kind-hearted mermaid. The ties to the past and slavery were interesting too. The culture of storytelling had me enthralled. Did I say this story was deep? So many layers! At its heart though is a sweet girl grieving her mother who has to learn to hold on to those still around her, those who still care, to not push them away and keep living. This is a perfect read for a thoughtful kid reader who will appreciate an intense, layered text and enjoy getting lost in moments of fantasy and, sometimes, of horror.
I adored Lisa Stringfellow's debut for its original story and wonderful prose. Told in alternating POVs between the protagonist, Kela, who has recently lost her mother and the antagonist, Ophidia, a seawoman with a palpable grudge, the novel moves seamlessly between both characters' worlds. Perhaps reflecting the Stringfellow's expertise as a teacher, I found myself flagging lovely turns of phrase and descriptions she used that model engaging and lyrical writing for middle grade readers and build a bright and magical world of St. Rita and the sea.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an advanced copy of the book.
What a fantastic story! It's got an outstanding audiobook, and the way it braids mermaid story into human story into island story into family story works so well. I love Kira, and as an adult reader I teared up several times in the story, including where she's working through stuff around her mom and the consequences of her wish. I love the magic and the sense of place, as they really ground the fantasy parts. It gets a bit scary near the end, but not gory or too dark. The presence of a loving friend or caring adult at each scary part helps balance the tension a little. I'll definitely be bringing this to our schools, and I highly recommend it if you're looking for a wonderful summer read!
From the uniquely beautiful writing to the compelling dual perspectives of protagonist and antagonist and evocative atmosphere—I was hooked. Stringfellow’s debut is a stunner. I didn’t want to put it down. Must have for library collections. Longer review to come!
ophidia lost a comb in a coral cave which kela picked up. in this story, kela will realize that one should never stand between a sea woman and her comb. losing her mom sent kela down a spiral. she’s avoiding her best friend, no longer going into the waters, and not thinking about her creative school application. all she wants is her mother back. when kela picked up the comb and was visited by ophidia, she wished for that. in exchange for her comb back, ophidia will grant kela a wish. all wishes have consequences and kela was willing to pay anything. however, before kela could return ophidia’s comb to her, kela broke it and the comb was stolen. enraged by this, ophidia vowed for revenge as the comb is tied to her life. ophidia, once burned by humans, never trusted any afterwards. kela’s “betrayal” solidified it.
a comb of wishes is filled with caribbean lore and legends, focusing on mermaids and the sea as kela connects with ophidia. kela grew up with stories and mythologies but meeting a real life sea folk was a shock to her. losing her mother broke kela but she knew she needed to do the right thing.
Wow! Intense. Classic Caribbean style storytelling. Stringfellow is effective at maintaining suspense and a foreword momentum throughout this novel. There was never a dull moment. I loved Bahni Turpin's narration. Brilliant. Great debut, Lisa. (I met the author through Amplify Black Stories cohort through Highlights.).
* Thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review! *
To be entirely honest, I requested this book mainly because it had a mermaid on the cover. After reading it however I'm very glad that I requested it. I did think it would be more of a scary book based on the cover, but maybe it would be to a younger reader.
Kela is a good protagonist for a middle grade novel. She makes mistakes but ultimately realizes what the right thing to do is and follows through with doing it. Her grief over her mother feels very real and the story shows how much it has affected her life. Her friend Lissy calls her out for pushing her away, her dad talks about how they never go diving anymore, and other similar things.
Ophidia, the sea woman, is a fun character to read about. Her perspectives all start and end with the same phrases and I thought that was unique and a fun storytelling tool. I do wish we could learn more about her and her life under the sea, but her motivation in this story is simply to get her comb back from Kela.
This book felt a little slow during some parts and it took me a little longer to read than I'd anticipated, but I enjoyed it despite that. The setting and characters were fun and the plot was intriguing. This was fun to read as an adult but as a child this is definitely a book that I would have read in one sitting.
Middle grade books are becoming some of my favorites! This is about a young Caribbean girl, Kela, who recently lost her mother. While dealing with this grief, she finds a magical comb that belongs to a mermaid. The mermaid grants her one wish, and of course, Kela wishes that her mother is alive again.
This engrossing story combines folklore and fantasy, and kept me interested from the beginning to the end.
I loved the storytelling that is central to the novel. From the structure of the book, to the characters, we see that documenting folklore and familial stories is important. As well as, sharing, interpreting, and learning from these stories.
This book dives into a lot, including navigating grief and the importance of community.
I would definitely recommend this. The suspense had me listening to this quickly. I smiled, I laughed, and I almost cried.
I read this book within 48 hours (which is super fast for me right now)! I was trying to remember if I had ever read a book with chapters and mermaids before; this might be my first. Some students and I had the privilege of talking to the author on World Read Aloud Day, and I have wanted to read it since. I really enjoyed this book. The author/narrator voice is strong, and it felt like I could hear it. The story weaves together grief, longing, trust, magic, sea folk, Caribbean culture, and Caribbean folklore. Whether being able to relate to Kela’s grief, being intrigued by a vengeful mermaid, or enjoying a story with magic and adventure, I know there will be readers for this tale.
Stringfellow spins a gripping, fast-paced tale of longing, revenge, and redemption told from alternating perspectives: a grieving young girl and a vindictive mermaid. Young Kela, the flawed but likable protagonist, misses her mom dearly. When an unexpected discovery offers a way to bring her back to life, Kela jumps at it but soon discovers the truth behind the saying: Be careful what you wish for. After a series of missteps, Kela makes amends—with the help of friends, family and what she knows in her heart to be true. A powerful, magic-fueled story in a gorgeous island setting.
I enjoyed so much about this book, from Kela's artistry and journey through grief, to the best friend relationship, to the poignant magic threaded throughout. It focuses a lot on letting go after loss, but not forgetting, and the difficulties of grief, all wrapped in gorgeous prose, a main character you'll want to root for, and mermaids!!
I really enjoyed this book. It's the kind of book I would have especially loved as a middle school age girl.
I also love that the author wrote the story in part to bring more diversity to children's publishing. It's needed. Because what kid doesn't want to be able to really see themselves in there characters that they love?
Summary: This book follows our main character who has found a mermaids comb. Its beautiful, its ancient and it's not hers so of course its owner wants it back. Ophelia is that owner. A mermaid who has agreed to grant Kela a wish in return of her prized possession. Throughout the book she holds the comb close and battles on who to share the knowledge of having it with. Her father wants to protect her but as things slowly unfold and Kela has let grief hold the reins of her wish things get dark. Quick
Kela Kela Kela I just want to give this baby a big hug. Wow. What an interesting story that leans heavy on grief, friendship, family, and myths. I listened to this on audiobook and I recommend that media. Although I'm sure reading it physically is just as well done. I really enjoyed the way the way the narrator interacted with the reader. It brought me back to the days when my mom would bring me to the library and my favorite African story teller was there to read Anansi the spider. This form of story telling really pulls you in to make you feel like you're right alongside Kela. This book explores folklore really well but it also felt very slice of life. It almost made me tear up seeing her learn to navigate through her emotions and missing her mom. It felt dark and twisted but also emotional. Highly recommend.
Right before Kela's mother, a researcher who delved into Carribean folk tales, died in a car accident, Kela had a fight with her about going to the craft store to get supplies for her sea glass necklaces. This adds another layer of sadness to Kela's life, which continues to go on with her father and grandfather, and revolves around the family dive shop. Her best friend Lissy and Lissy's grandmother try help, but since it is summer, the two girls don't spend as much time together. Kela's father doesn't talk about her mother, and when he even forgets to go diving with her, Kela decides to visit one of their usual haunts. While there, she finds a wooden box with an intriguing comb in it, and she brings it home, even though she knows that items should not be picked up from protected land. She even consults a former coworker of her mother's about this. However, she is visited by Ophidia, a sea person who owned the comb. Sea people don't have spirits; they store them in bone objects, so Ophidia purposes a trade. Kele can make a wish, but unless she returns the comb, Ophidia will find her and drag her to the bottom of the sea. Kele wishes for her mother to come back, but because of a series of incidents, is not able to throw the comb back into the water. The family shop is ransacked, George, the other owner, runs off with the comb (which he considers selling)... and Kele's mother comes back. Kele is so relieved that she can apologize that she doesn't immediately see how difficult the return is for her mother. Ophidia stalks Kele in terrifying ways, and Kele knows she must find the comb. Will she be able to keep her promise, and even if she does, will her wish to have her mother back work out the way that she would like it to? Strengths: This was a well paced book that set out an interesting fantasy problem, and showed how Kela was as methodical as she could be in dealing with this strange set of circumstances. Her troubles with Lissy are very realistic, which is a good contrast to all of the odd things going on in her world, and I was glad to see that Lissy and her grandmother still came through to help her. The St. Rita's setting and the family dive shop was different and intriguing, and the financial difficulties of the shop lead to George taking some hard-to-guess risks. The mother's return is handled pragmatically, with no one except for Kela knowing that she had died. Ophidia's history, with her own friend drama and a major hurricane, allows the author to share some historical insights on life in St. Rita's at an earlier time. The discussion about archaeological rights was fascinating. Weaknesses: As an adult, I was a bit suprised that Kela picked up the box, and made a deal with Ophidia. She is well verse in the stories of the area, so should know that sea people are pretty brutal when it comes to bargains, so she should have turned over the comb without a wish at all! The idea of wishes, though, is SO intriguing to middle grade readers, so they will not have this same feeling. There was also a twist where someone opted for immortality, which sounds like such a bad idea. Ophidia certainly has been less than happy hanging around since 1667! What I really think: It's good to see horror stories from other cultures, and it's certainly hard to find books set in the Carribean! This is a great choice for readers who want a scary tale with cultural connections and a lot of information about Caribbean history and tale telling. Hand this to tweens who have devoured Baptiste's The Jumbies, Kessler's Emily Windsnap series, Royce's Root Magic, or Strange's Part of Your Nightmare (Disney Chills, Book One, which is probably the closest title to this one.
A middle grade fantasy packed with action, mermaid lore, and heart to spare. Here are only a few of the many things I loved about it:
• The premise. Kela, a Caribbean girl, discovers a beautiful, old comb in a coral cave but soon learns it belongs to a human-hating sea woman, Ophidia. Ophidia is furious that the girl has her comb but is obliged to grant a wish in exchange for its return. Every reader will imagine what they’d wish for. Kela, though, is mourning her mother’s recent death in a car accident. Could she dare wish for her return, even after Ophidia warns that such a large wish could bring equally large consequences?
• Dual point of view: Kela and Ophidia. Telling a story through the eyes of two characters is tricky. Debut author Lisa Stringfellow handles it masterfully, offering important insights into the protagonist and antagonist. Readers will relate to Kela, who deeply regrets arguing with Mum before the crash. To make matters worse, she may be in trouble for not reporting finding the comb, as required by law to protect historical undersea artifacts. Others want the comb, too, and returning it to Ophidia proves much more difficult than Kela imagined. Perhaps because she’s smart, creative, and resourceful, Kela also believes she can handle all of this on her own. She finally seeks help from her pop and others when her multiplying problems become overwhelming.
Ophidia the sea woman is genuinely creepy, and it’s great fun to experience life as a 300-year-old magical creature with gills, a tail, and a deep grudge. Of course, Ophidia doesn’t consider herself the “bad guy,” and readers will appreciate understanding her motives. Stringfellow’s writing is beautiful throughout, but I especially enjoyed Ophidia’s lyrical chapters.
• The setting. Stringfellow, whose father emigrated to the United States from Barbados, draws on her heritage to immerse readers in a fictional Caribbean island, St. Rita. The story comes alive through precise, sensory details: the faint warbling of tree frogs, salty-sweet fried plantains, cricket highlights on TV, the rhythmic beats of soca music, the laughter of women gathered in the shade of a local store’s awning.
It’s fitting that the story’s tense, heart-pounding climax takes place aboard a boat on the rollicking sea.
• A story about the power of stories. The audiobook narrator, Bahni Turpin, creates a delightful Caribbean accent. (Her IMDb bio says she was born in Michigan!) She’s a skilled reader, which felt perfect for a story that celebrates Caribbean folktales and oral storytelling traditions.
This is a magical story about loss, connection, and enduring love. It’s full of surprises with a bittersweet, satisfying resolution that is ultimately hopeful.
• Black Girl magic. In an author’s note, Stringfellow says she wrote this story for her 12-year-old self, the girl who loved fantasy stories but never saw herself in them. Even today, she notes that only 5 percent of published children’s books are from Black creators.
When kids see characters like themselves starring in stories, they feel seen, respected, and loved. It’s also important for kids of all races to read about experiences other than their own. As a landlocked Midwesterner most of my life, I really enjoyed my island time with Kela, her family, friends and community (and with Ophidia, too).
Disclaimer: I only post about books I finished and enjoyed.
A Comb of Wishes spins a new tale on mermaids by tapping into Caribbean folktales to give readers a story of grief and how it can drive one to lose themselves.
A Powerful & Emotional Story Stringfellow wove a beautiful story here following Kela as she struggles with the loss of her mother. Her final words to her mother were, “I hate you,” and then her mother died, car sliding off a cliff in the rain. Kela is haunted by this, her last memories of her mother being darkened by harsh words, and she finds herself lost. Kela has isolated herself from her father, her best friend, her community, keeping to herself as much as possible.
Many people lose themselves in their grief, especially of someone they care for dearly. However, Kela finds a relic that gives her what she wants more than anything: her mother alive.
A Comb of Wishes could have taken a wrong turn in many ways but instead follows a natural path, switching between the mermaid Ophidia and Kela’s respective perspectives.
Both are grappling with grief but in very different ways. Ophidia has had decades to stew in her grief, blinded by the anger of the loss for years. As a result, she was isolating herself from even her mermaid sisters. For Kela, her grief is still at the surface, keeping her away from her friends and family.
A Comb of Wishes is a story about how to handle grief. It is a story about keeping oneself from drowning in the sorrow and anger that often builds after the loss of a loved one.
Furthermore, it was beautiful in that way. It was terrific how Stringfellow put the story together and captured the characters’ grief realistically. She gives the characters some closure without washing away the grief. The grief is still there, but it is not drowning the characters by the end, which makes the story so compelling.
Final Thoughts A Comb of Wishes is an incredibly thoughtful novel. Stringfellow tells the story in a way to captivate the reader, tapping into her Caribbean roots to tell the story in a way it would be told traditionally: orally. It is lovely to see her capture her culture here, tap into it and lure the reader in with this way of storytelling. It builds up the atmosphere; it builds up the voices and the mythology surrounding the community of St. Rita.
It was also wonderful to see this sense of sustainability. Kela makes jewelry, but only from discarded items from the beach, sea glass, rocks, but never seashells which could be home to other small creatures. I love how Stringfellow could embed this thought of sustainability in the story without coming off as overbearing. It was beautiful to see these ideas put in a children’s book because it offers up a teaching lesson without sounding like a teaching lesson.
“She pulled out the delicate orange sea glass necklace. A mermaid’s tear. Not of sadness, but of joy.” (243)
Folktales, folkcrafts, Caribbean culture and lore—and a fascinating, fantastical story, an interesting array of characters, and exquisite writing which grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until I finished reading.
Kela is grieving the accidental death of her mother. She also is experiencing intense guilt; the last thing she said to her mother, a professor busy with her study of the island’s folklore, was, “I hate you.” “Three months had gone but still Kela resisted her mother’s death. For a while, Pop seemed to be in the same fog that engulfed her. He stopped going to work, letting George run their business on his own, and hardly left his bedroom.” (71)
When Kela finds a hidden box containing a comb belonging to a mermaid, she doesn’t have to think twice about her one wish, even though “Magic always has a cost and it can be dear. The stronger the magic you invoke, the deeper the consequence.… The consequence of magic is in proportion to its strength.” (83)
This is not your Disney or even Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid but the real deal of Caribbean folklore. A trade is struck—the comb for a wish. However, the comb is part of the island’s cultural heritage and, as such, could be claimed by the government and Kela’s father, who is unaware of the treasure, placed in serious trouble. In even worse luck, the comb breaks and then is stolen, and Kela is worried that she has lost her bargaining power—after her wish has been granted. “[Kela] wondered if there was some truth in the old tales. An icy fear crept over her. Who or what might come for her?” (43)
Luckily, Kela has a true friend in Lissy and Lissy’s grandmother, an island storyteller, and, eventually, Ophida herself.
Alternating between Ophida’s and Kela’s stories—past and present—readers can sense the power of story. Part suspense, part fantasy, part mystery, part betrayal, and part love; revenge and salvation, “This is a story”; however, “The story is put on you,” the reader, to interpret.