‘When We Believed in Mermaids’ Examines the Innocence of Childhood Through the Lens of a Kaleidoscope [REVIEW]

Beach footprints

Long-buried secrets come to light when two sisters reunite. (Photo by Canva)

Diamond Review BannerThey were as close as two sisters could possibly be. Then the unthinkable happens and one of them is killed in an act of terror. Or was she? What happens when everything you think you know is a lie? Find out in When We Believed in Mermaids, Barbara O’Neal’s powerful new novel about siblings, secrets, and second chances.


Lake Union

Working long shifts at the hospital is something Kit, a California surfer and ER doctor, is used to. But one morning at the end of her shift, just as she comes off a grueling all-nighter, she sees a news story on television that blows her mind. As she watches a reporter deliver his dispatch from the other side of the world, she sees that a nightclub in Auckland is on fire. Although that’s tragic, it isn’t what catches her attention. No, it’s the face of the beautiful young woman who looks into the camera for just a few moments. It’s a face she hasn’t seen for 15 years… a face she never thought she’d see again… the face of her sister Josie who died a decade and a half before.

Initially, she tries to tell herself that she is imagining things. But then her mother calls, having seen the same report. She too had a similar reaction, and they wonder how it can possibly be Josie. After all, she was killed on that European train that was bombed by terrorists. Is there any chance she slipped away and has been living off the grid all this time? With so many unanswered questions, there are just as many new emotions to process. Now Kit has to get at the truth, so she does what any good sister would do. She goes to New Zealand herself in search of answers, and in so doing she opens up a trove of memories that have haunted the girls for their entire lives. But in order to regain their relationship, they both have demons to face… demons that have been buried for a very long time.

When We Believed in Mermaids is my first encounter with Barbara O’Neal’s work, but it definitely won’t be the last. This is a story that is nuanced and insightful, heartbreaking and life affirming. It captures the essence of two souls, siblings who experience great tragedy in their youth and deal with it in very different ways. One becomes a successful physician while the other is content to disappear under horrific circumstances and construct a brand new life, one far away from California and everything she has ever known, even if that means leaving her sister behind for good. O’Neal writes as if she is creating a beautiful tapestry, weaving threads of her characters’ memories together one at a time, until they come together in a breathtaking work of art. And that’s what this story is.

O’Neal makes us examine our own youth through a different lens, to observe our parents and siblings as if through a kaleidoscope. One subtle turn transforms angels into demons, and in many ways, that is how the girls experience their lives. It is the subtle differences that ultimately create a chasm between them. Each has a unique story, even if they both grew up on the Pacific, surfing every opportunity they got, with parents who were admired by so many in a world that for most would seem like a golden life. But it wasn’t ever really that. Instead, it was a life plagued by abuse and addiction, one which marred the beauty and the possibilities of what should have been.

For all the readers who love gripping fiction by authors like Barbara Delinsky, Charlotte Vale Allen, and Catherine Ryan Hyde; remember this name: Barbara O’Neal. When We Believed in Mermaids is dramatic, authentic, and memorable. This is definite diamond review material, a story worthy to move to the top of your nightstand’s to-be-read pile.

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Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O’Neal
(Photo by Blue Fox Photography


Barbara O’Neal is the author of 12 novels of women’s fiction, including The Art of Inheriting SecretsHow to Bake a Perfect Life, and The All You Can Dream Buffet. Her award-winning books have been published in more than a dozen countries, including France, England, Poland, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Brazil.

She lives in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs with her beloved, a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent.

Visit her online at BarbaraONeal.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

By Barbara O’Neal
352 pp. Lake Union. $14.95

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase When We Believed in Mermaids at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

When We Believed in Mermaids is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

3 Responses to ‘When We Believed in Mermaids’ Examines the Innocence of Childhood Through the Lens of a Kaleidoscope [REVIEW]

  1. Pingback: Blog Tour – When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal (Author Guest Post) – Sincerely Karen Jo

  2. Sara Strand says:

    That’s absolutely a good point, what one person sees could be the opposite of what someone else sees. My brother and I often fight about this because his version of things is often so incredibly different and it frustrates me. I can’t wait to read this book! Thank you for being on the tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  3. Pingback: Barbara O'Neal, author of WHEN WE BELIEVED IN MERMAIDS, on tour July/August 2019 | TLC Book Tours

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