Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Comb of Wishes

Stringfellow, Lisa. A Comb of Wishes
February 8th 2022 by Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
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 grandmother 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 comb (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 comb. 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. 
Ms. Yingling


  1. I'm a little confused - is it a comb or a crown?

  2. Sorry. It's a comb. I think I just wanted it to be a crown. More... princessy? I really need to hire a full time proofreader!