Lisa Stringfellow’s debut middle grade novel, A Comb of Wishes, opens in the deep abyss of the ocean. Ophidia, a sea woman with beautiful green and gold scales, frantically searches for a missing box that contains her only hope of gaining a soul.
On land, 12-year-old Kela used to love beachcombing near her Caribbean island home, but since her mother died three months ago, she’s been adrift in her grief. Her only solace has been crafting with sea glass, creating jewelry from the colorful treasures her mother called “mermaid’s tears.” A historian at the local museum, Kela’s mother left her daughter a valuable gift: a love for the folk tales of the sea and their island, stories filled with shipwrecks, mermaids and mystery.
As Kela walks along the beach one day, she hears a mysterious hum that draws her to a sinkhole. Inside, she finds an ancient box containing a comb made of bone. Although she knows taking anything from the protected beach is wrong, Kela puts it in her bag. When the sea woman discovers that Kela has taken the comb, she offers to grant Kela one wish in exchange for it. But all magic has a cost.
A Comb of Wishes is a beguiling fantasy novel that will engage, inspire and challenge its readers. As Kela confronts her deepest fears and longings, she learns to accept the unacceptable and comes to understand the consequences that ripple outward from our choices. Stringfellow expertly balances the story’s dual settings, evoking Kela’s all-too-human sadness on land and the impact of her mother’s loss on her whole family, as well as Ophidia’s underwater world, where magical sea creatures dwell and wishes can come true, if the wisher is willing to pay the price.
In 2019, Stringfellow received Kweli’s inaugural Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award for A Comb of Wishes, and it’s easy to see why. She understands that the most powerful fantasy tales can be more true than ordinary life, and her immersive writing launches readers into Kela’s heart as she makes impossible choices. A Comb of Wishes is an extraordinary debut.