When We Believed in Mermaids: A Novel by Barbara O'Neal tells the story of Kit and Josie, two sisters separated from each other by death — or are they, really? Kit, an ER doctor living in Santa Cruz, lost her sister fifteen years ago in a terrorist attack. She has lived in grief after the incident, experiencing a deep sense of loss. Everything changes when live coverage of a club fire in Auckland reveals a woman in the background with a striking resemblance to Josie Bianci, Kit’s sister. Kit is shocked and wonders if her sister really died. She knows she must uncover the truth, and there is only one way to do so: Going to Auckland to investigate. This story presents Kit’s journey to uncovering the truth and to a sister who has lived a lie all these years. But what will it take for the two sisters to rebuild their relationship?
The novel is engrossing, poignant, and full of twists. Beginning with a powerful premise about the death of a sister, the story moves fast, and from the moment that Kit decides to go to New Zealand in search of her sister, a lot of unforeseeable things happen that rock the lives the two sisters have built for themselves, putting them in danger and forcing them to face uncomfortable truths about past trauma. The secrets are laid bare, buried wounds are reopened, and a whole new, blank page opens before them. The characters are easy to like and their experiences inspire pathos in readers. Barbara O'Neal demonstrates a strong gift for plot; her graceful prose elevates the quality of the entertainment, and the characters are fleshed out and unforgettable. This is a page-turning story with everything readers look for in stories that are intriguing and suspenseful.