Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Barbara O'Neal - When We Believed in Mermaids

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…
Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.
After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.
Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

Comment: I can't remember why I decided to read this book. There had to be something about it to have caught my attention and now, having finished, I assume it was the promise of a mystery/unlikely plot but I should say not all elements were as well done as I hoped for.

In this book we meet Kit, a doctor who while having a rest after a complicated work day is randomly looking at the TV where the image of her dead sister is quickly caught. Kit is instantly alert and later on she starts investigating the news and realizes that the woman who looks like her sister was in New Zealand. After talking to her mother, Kit decides to travel to New Zealand to look for that woman, because she can't let her conscience be if she doesn't try, no matter how ridiculous her mission might seem. While there, Kit keeps remembering their childhood, their lives, everything that lead to her sister Josie being named as one of the dead on a terrorist attack in Europe, even though her body was never found. When she finds what happened to her sister, though, can she deal with what is left?

This is a story based on some difficult ideas to accept. I know it's not something impossible but we live such visible lives, we have so many connections, it's hard to think someone can disappear like that without obvious clues but world events keep proving this is, indeed, likely. I think what made it a bit too unlikely for me is how Kit just travels to New Zealand to possibly find a sister she thought dead on a whim. Forget about how much money that would be, how easy it seemed for her to just use the accumulated vacancy time from work and go.... I don't how many people live in New Zealand, so which are the odds?

Of course, this is a work of fiction so Kit arrives (and there have been already many flashback scenes where we get an idea of what is going on and how the family used to be) and eventually starts walking around, trying to find clues. She also meets a stranger that seems to click with her very easily although she is afraid of caring for someone, fearing they might disappear on her as well.During all this time, we see her movements as a tourist, we have plenty of flashbacks and we also have the POV of the dead sister, so we can have different sides to the same events/moments of the siblings' live.

I don't think it's any surprise that the dead sister isn't really dead and that the woman on TV was actually her. The mystery is why she felt like doing such an extreme plan as faking her own death and never contact her family again. The things we learn from her POV aren't always to the point, I assume for shock factor as we get closer to the end. I must say I did feel pity for her, while she was a young girl and because of the things she went through but now, as an adult, it's hard to think the two sides of her can exist so peacefully together because of her decision of not telling anyone. 

The two sister's personalities are different, they have a bond yes, but they think differently. Kit is younger so her role as child didn't have the same impact as her sister's in the way her choices were decided. Josie, on the other hand, not only understood but acted accordingly to whatever she felt and while I can see how trauma can make one make apparently wrong choices, she was described as clever, especially as a teenager. It's just odd that the same cleverness abandons her when something bad is going on, because it suits the path the author wanted her to follow. This feels a little annoying and added to the (really) abundant flashback scenes or memory lane situations, parts of the story felt they dragged, were repetitive....

At the end of the book I kept thinking about how Josie should have been more mature for the kind of things she went through and Kit dealt with things in a way that was not fully healthy but I suppose I can appreciate her side a bit more, in the sense of how she dealt with things. The romance she developed seems to be stronger than what the reader could imagine but I didn't mind there was some sweetness in the story. The solution to Josie's actions and how they affected others wasn't as easy to accept. I mean, thinking on how this ends makes her choices seem so trivial... In the end, I don't think all was bad but I certainly expected more from this novel, or more mystery or more conflict....
Grade: 6/10

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