When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

“This happens all the time. Anyone who has lost somebody they love has experienced it—the head in the crowd on a busy street, the person at the grocery store who moves just like her. The rush to catch up, so relieved that she is actually still alive . . . Only to be crushed when the imposter turns around and the face is wrong. The eyes. The lips.”
― Barbara O’Neal, When We Believed in Mermaids

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal is the story of a family ripped apart by tragedy and how the ones left behind try to pick up the shattered pieces.

The Bianci women are the only ones left. Josie, the older sister, was killed fifteen years ago during a terrorist attack while on a train overseas. Her younger sister Kit works as an ER doctor in Santa Cruz. She was left to help their mother as the two worked through their grief. Kit’s steady life comes to a crashing halt when she sees Josie on the TV news during a broadcast from New Zealand. Her mother saw Josie too. Doubt comes creeping in. In the background of television news coverage of a club fire in Auckland, the two saw a woman walking through smoke who bears an uncanny resemblance to Josie. It has to be her.

Kit is slammed by a flood of emotions: anger, grief, and loss. How could Josie lie to them for the past fifteen years? How could she abandon them? She let them believe she was dead. Kit has to find Josie and get answers. She has to go to Auckland.

After landing in New Zealand, Kit is unsure where to start. Once she is in the country where she thinks Josie is, she isn’t even sure if she really wants to search for her. As she begins the physical process of looking for Josie, Kit allows herself to fall into past memories. Josie and Kit’s childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some good parts: days (and nights) spent on the beach and a lost teenage boy who showed up one day and then never left. Among the good lie the bad: multiple tragedies and traumas that scarred the girls and left their family in ruins. Each family member carries their own baggage, their own secrets from long ago that they have carried for years.

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