Cover Image: A Comb of Wishes

A Comb of Wishes

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Member Reviews

Beautifully written and compelling! I love the main character, Kela, who makes mistakes, learns from them, and feels very much like a real middle school aged kid. The warm community of friends and neighbors around her made this book a cozy read, like spending time with an old friend, even though the plot was new and fresh. I loved it!
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A new voice to behold and I love the mermaid in this book and the role she has along with the MC plus, I like the setting and plot too! Definitely a voice I want to see more in the future.
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This book was incredibly magical. I write contemporary, and I'm a sucker for a character-driven classic realistic middle grade. And even though this book was full of magical and fantastical elements, the powerful punch of the character-driven story was the thing that pulled me right though. I was thrilled by the adventure and the tender human moments. So grateful I got a chance to read and review this one. It's just right on so many levels!
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I loved the voice and truth of the mermaid. She wasn’t some fragile, doe eyed miss. She was strong and bold, ready to do what was necessary. And the main character, Kela, discovers her strength along her own journey as well. I couldn’t stop turning the pages!
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This was a delightful tale that used Carribean mythology and tales to create a magical story. Kela, a young girl recent lost her mother and is depressed and not sure how to have a normal life anymore. One day Kela finds a box on the beach containing a comb and after that she starts to experience weird things. Kela realizes that she might have a comb of wishes that was talked about with sea women in tales by her village.

This story is all about love and loss and the details make you feel like you are on the island with Kela and her family. The vengeful mermaid is intense and at times a little scary, creating a thrilling plot. Kela tries her best to do all the right things but it seems like everything is also going wrong. Her grief is so real and the reader can feel it though the tale. I really like how she developed through the story and grew. 

I am also glad that I picked up the Audiobook on Audible, the reader, Bahni Turpin, did a fabulous job and added to the feel of the story. Her voice it beautiful and atmospheric and she built the suspense so well. I highly recommend the audiobook for this one!

The folklore/mythology made this book all the more interesting and having a mermaid is often a win in my book - the sea and its creatures are so mysterious. This was a fun, adventure that middle grade reader will enjoy.
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The writing in this book hooked me right away. The chapters from Ophidia’s point-of-view are mysterious and otherworldly. Kela’s chapters felt packed with emotion and anchored in the island setting of the town where she lives. I loved the way the author celebrates oral storytelling through A COMB OF WISHES. The chapters from Ophidia’s POV begin and end with a traditional story cue: “Crick. Crack.” The author explains more about this in her guest post at Teen Librarian Toolbox.

The story is as sweet as it is heartbreaking. Kela’s grief over her mom’s death feels raw and real. Her desperation to use her wish to get her mom back makes perfect sense. I felt myself grasping for hope right along with her at every turn. I love the way Kela remains an active character within the story, even though she’s surrounded by adults who have a lot more power and options than she does. She is the one who makes the moves that drive the story forward, and they feel like reasonable things that she could do.

I also loved the way that magic and fantasy are integrated into this contemporary story. I thought that was really well done.

Readers who enjoy lush middle grade fantasy about family connections, like THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill or THE OTHER SIDE OF LUCK by Ginger Johnson, will love this one.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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Luminous! Lisa has woven a compelling tale of love, grief, and consequences, told through loving and lyrical language. Can’t wait to read it again.
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Twelve-year-old Kela loved collecting sea glass with her mom, turning them into pieces of jewelry, but ever since her mom died in a car accident, she hasn't felt the same passion for creating new pieces.  A part of Kela feels guilty about the last moments she spent with her mother, and the harsh words she spoke to her mom as she was leaving the house that day.  Kela was upset with her mom because she had promised to take her to the store for supplies, and her mom instead rushed off to record stories for the Caribbean folktales that she was collecting for a project at work.  Since then, Kela hasn't even wanted to dive with her pop and has been pushing her best friend, Lissy away, wanting to spend time alone and reflecting on how much she misses her mom. 

Then one day, Lissy gets Kela to agree to take her on one of her scavenger hunts for sea glass, and while exploring Kela is drawn to an unexpected sound coming from the protected nature park near their homes.  Despite their parents having warned them to avoid the park in the past, the girls venture in and Kela ends up following the sound down a sink hole, where she finds an ancient box.  Kela knows that it is wrong to take any items found from protected land, or worse not to report it to the office of antiquities, but the draw of the box is too great and so she puts it into her bag and heads home.  Meanwhile, Ophidia, a Seawitch becomes aware that her box has been taken, inside is an ancient comb, an object that holds significant value to her.  Once Kela opened the box, the magic within required she make a bargain with the Seawitch, a wish in exchange for what Kela has taken.  Unfortunately, their bargain doesn't go as planned when the comb is stolen, and Kela isn't sure she can retrieve it in time to live up to her part of the bargain with Ophidia. 

 A Comb of Wishes is told between the alternating perspectives of Kela and Ophidia which allows the reader to really appreciate the voices of the antagonist and protagonist, and what specifically motives each character.  For Kela it's her love for her mom and the guilt of their last encounter together, a sense of needing to make amends.  Ophidia's motivations are more complex and relate to more ancient reasons.  She's been amongst the ocean since 1667, so she has some unresolved issues from her past and a small desire for revenge.  Truthfully, Ophidia can be quite frightening, not what you would think of from a mermaid or Seawitch.  At the same time, the descriptions of her make her sound beautiful and mysterious.  I would love to know more about her, even now as I reflect back at reading the story.  I so enjoy a story that includes beautiful prose, and it's one of things that I so enjoyed while reading, the way the author described the setting and the characters.  She paints vivid pictures of the island and the tight knit family that Kela has around her.  Then there's these moments where a hurricane is ravishing the island and the rain is pouring down.  I live around tranquil and slow-moving rivers and streams versus the ocean setting of the book, but the way that she describes the shimmering water, the deep blues and the surrounding Caribbean Island really brought the story to life for me.  It's moments of calm and then violent storms.   I also enjoyed the emphasis the author placed on storytelling and Caribbean folklore, with Seafolk/mermaids.  The unique way that chapters began as the stories would with "Crick, Crack," to draw the listeners attention and ended with, "The story is put on you" where the listener is to interpret their own meaning of the story.  Such a wonderful fantasy debut! 

**A huge thank you to the publisher and SparkPress for the E-ARC**
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The framework of Caribbean storytelling acts as a haunting refrain throughout A Comb of Wishes, emphasizing the power of both the story and the listener in this beautifully written fantasy.

Keela is still deeply grieving her mother’s death to the point where she is pushing her father and her best friend away. When she finds an ancient comb in a cave by the beach, it calls a mermaid to her, who agrees to give her one wish in exchange for the return of her comb. The thing that Keela wants more than anything is her mother, but as any lover of stories knows, all wishes come with a price.

Other forces steal the comb, and Keela’s desperation to get it back leads her into danger. Then the mermaid strikes back in anger when she realizes her comb is gone, and the whole island is threatened! The perilous action and a good dose of creepiness keeps the pages turning, but the emotional heart of the story never wavers from Keela’s pain and her gradual understanding of what she must do to put things right. Appropriately, it’s a story from the island’s past that helps Keela save herself and come to terms with her mother’s death. A truly satisfying story, I’m going to be recommending this to all middle grade fantasy lovers!
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“Memory…is a powerful force in the way a society evolves.” - Bryan Stevenson.

A Comb of Wishes* is a story about friendship, grief, and love. This debut book is a middle-grade fantasy with magic, folklore, and Caribbean culture. Kela finds a beautiful artifact, a comb, in a sea cave (while trespassing), and the owner of this comb, who happens to be a mermaid, wants it back.

We met Kela alone at the beach. Her happy place. Kela no longer spends time with her best friend, Lissy, or goes diving with her Dad because her world hasn’t been the same since her mother passed away.

However, Kela still enjoys collecting sea glass to create one-of-a-kind jewelry. Our girl is serving Black girl entrepreneurship and creativity. Her mother said sea glass was mermaid tears.

The island is full of storytellers telling similar stories passed down from generation to generation. Some of these stories are folklore, but Kela finds herself face-to-face with Ophidia, a mermaid!

Our lives are full of choices, and Kela has a big decision to make. Ophidia agrees to let her make ONE wish in exchange for the comb. There’s only one thing she wants most in the world. Will she choose it despite the possible consequences?

One of my favorite parts of the book involves Kela and her best friend going to the Museum and Historical Society to look at Oral History records of interviews her mother collected. It reminds me of going to the Library of Congress in college and later learning about the online archives, listening to interviews with those who lived through slavery.

The importance of preserving history is very evident today. For example, the National Museum of African American History and Culture currently seeks volunteers to help transcribe documents. These collections represent our connection to the past. The reader will learn more about the comb Kela discovered, and her choices will affect how even the sea woman sees it.

This middle-grade book gives us a glimpse into the perspective of a child dealing with the loss of a parent. Lisa Stringfellow wrote this book for her younger self. She desired to see more characters represented in the fantasy who looked like her. She also wrote it in hopes of bringing comfort to so many who’ve experienced loss.

I couldn’t put this book down. It reminded me of how I felt reading mystery books like Nancy Drew. I had that same excitement and curiosity as I kept wanting to know what happened next.

*Disclaimer: This book was provided to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
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I will reach for pretty much any book that incorporates mythology or aspects of different cultures, so as soon as I heard of this book I wanted to pick it up. I really enjoyed the writing style and the distinct perspectives the story is told from.I was immediately drawn into the story and loved the overall atmosphere of the book. I was even surprised by some darker moments, but loved the journey. The grief that was felt by Kela over the loss of her mother was genuine and a consistent theme throughout the book.

The world and culture portrayed felt vibrant and developed, giving a unique view at everyday life in the Caribbean as well as a deep dive into Caribbean folklore. All in all I felt this was a solid middle grade that will thrill readers with dynamic folklore elements as well as teach important lessons along the way.
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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.
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Crick. Crack. This is a beautifully told story that weaves Afro-Caribbean folklore tales of the Mami Wata into a touching and relatable story of grief, loss, and how to move on after tragedy strikes a family. Kela is devastated after her mother has died. When she discovers a magical comb that literally calls to her, she meets a sea witch and has the opportunity to wish for the one thing she wants more than anything else. But, wishes from a sea witch are not free. Unexpected consequences force Kela to face her own emotions and make a difficult decision. I highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism that mix sadness, joy, and fantastical storytelling.
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Young readers looking for a book with storytelling that pulls them right in and a unique voice will love A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow. Set in the Carribean, the story follows a young girl Kela, still reeling from the loss of her mother. When she discovers a magical comb and is granted a wish by a mermaid to bring her mother back, little does she know that her wish will set off a chain of unfortunate events.

With all of us grounded and unable to travel right now, A Comb of Wishes is a figurative ticket to the Carribean. Stringfellow’s fantastic writing will immerse and pull readers in to Lisa’s world, an island surrounded by ocean and conservation sites with a close community where everyone knows each other.

 A Comb of Wishes reads as a love letter to the Carribean; to the people, to the land, to the ocean, to conservation efforts, and to the rich stories within. Lisa’s mother worked as a story curator, and her father’s job as a dive instructor and advocacy for conservation add another layer, highlighting the importance of caretaking the world around us.

Crick. Crack. This is a story.

What immediately stands out in A Comb of Wishes is Stringfellow’s phenomenal storytelling. Though most of the chapters are told from Lisa’s perspective, capturing the perspective of a twelve-year-old who longs for her mother, Lisa’s chapters are nicely juxtaposed with a few chapters told from the story of Ophidia, the vengeful mermaid whose fate is more intertwined with Lisa than they both realise. Indeed, A Comb of Wishes is about the power of storytelling, and how stories are sometimes passed down like heirlooms and can hold considerable power.

A vengeful mermaid, specifically Ophidia, take center stage in A Comb of Wishes. The story’s depiction of mermaids, and particularly the story behind Ophidia’s path of vengeance will intrigue readers – and also offer a great perspective on how misunderstandings can lead to decades-long grudges.

At the very heart of this story is a heartfelt and profound story about grief. A Comb of Wishes, after all, is a story about a young girl is grappling with her mother’s death and how the heavy weight of her grief alienates her from people in her community. Death of loved ones, particularly those of parents, is something that is forever carried by children, and A Comb of Wishes honours the unique love between child and parent.

Cautionary tales are often fun to read, and A Comb of Wishes is no exception. “Be careful for what you wish for” is at the center of the story, but I enjoyed how Stringfellow elevates the cautionary tale to a story that is ultimately a story about how, sometimes, the wishes that we make come from a place deeply rooted in love and loss. Furthermore, as Ophidia exacts her vengeance, the story can sometimes take a chilling turn (but never overtly scary), which will excite and delight readers looking for a thrill.
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What a magical middle grade novel! I can’t wait to add it to our bookshelf. Thanks for the opportunity to read it!
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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!
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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 gradnmother 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 crown (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 crown. 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.
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"She said stories lived in the ear of the hearer, not the teller." 

A gorgeously written middle grade novel about the power of storytelling, that also examines living with grief and the importance of home. I especially enjoyed anthropological aspects of the story. Highly recommended!
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Gorgeous writing, compelling characters, and a hint of island magic! This story is full of heart and hard choices. I loved watching Kela navigate friendship changes and loss as an undercurrent to her more pressing problem: facing off with the sea woman who wants her soul!! Fast paced, unique storytelling that shines!
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This middle grade fantasy digs deep into love, loss, and letting go, through the lenses of a heartbroken girl and a vengeful mermaid. After her mother dies, the main character Kela pulls back from all the things -- and people -- she loves. She wants nothing more than for her mother to be alive again. Kela discovers a mermaid’s comb and gets granted one magical wish, and the rest is a beautifully woven, easy to read tale of magic, revenge, and simply trying to make things right, all set against the vivid island backdrop of St. Rita.
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