Mermaids Dream of Trilobites

By: Martha Riva Palacio Obón

Sofía is convinced she’s a mermaid, even though she lives in a city far from the sea. Her mom, Raquel, works nights at a job Sofía doesn’t understand. Sofía guesses that Raquel is a trapeze artist in a circus, and so she must be a flying fish. (Everyone’s got a fish inside them, you see.) On the other hand, her mom’s boyfriend, José, is a creepy barracuda. Sofía has to hide on the roof every night when her mother goes to work in order to avoid him. After Raquel takes Sofía to live by the sea with her grandmother (whom Sofía decides is a sea dragon), Sofía not only has to deal with a mountain of questions and complicated feelings about her mom and José but now she also has to try to fit in to a new school and make new friends in the middle of the year. Thankfully, she finds another mermaid: Luisa.

As Sofía learns to process all of these experiences, Sofía and Luisa become fast friends. And, now that she lives across the street, Sofía can talk to the sea anytime she wants. But shortly before Sofía’s tenth birthday, Luisa drowns while the two mermaids are swimming together. Luisa’s mother blames Sofía for the accident, and Sofía has to learn how to deal with a grief so strong that she starts causing tidal waves and hurricanes in the little town by the bay. Finally, as Sofía’s birthday nears, she and Luisa’s mother come to understand each other. Raquel also starts to realize the changes she needs to make in her own life in order to keep herself and her daughter safe. The hurricanes and tidal waves begin to subside. As the story comes to a close, Raquel quits her nocturnal job, throws José out on the street, and comes to live with Tita and Sofía by the bay. Sofía learns to make a new life for herself. In an epilogue, we learn that she goes on to become a marine biologist and that Raquel opens a dance studio, a lifelong dream.

This is a story about difficult things happening to a perceptive and imaginative girl who didn’t ask for any of it. It’s a story about how to process intense emotions, how to think about growing up, and how to be okay when the adults in your life are disappointing, or worse: dangerous. Told through beautiful marine imagery and funny observations, the book, winner of Mexico’s 2011 Premio Barco de Vapor, is a powerful lesson on how to cope and make yourself heard.

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