The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid

BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations


Book Title: The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid

Author: Tania Unsworth

Publisher: Zephyr

Publication Date: July 2018

Most Suitable For: Ages 8-12


I was not sure what to expect from this middle-grade mermaid story, with its stunning sparkly cover by Helen Crawford-White and a blurb that promises dark and disturbing twists. Very soon after opening the first pages of The Girl Who Thought Her Mother was a Mermaid, however, I found the story to be so enticing that I finished it in one sitting.


Stella Martin can remember how happy everything seemed at home before her mother died. Since her mother passed away, Stella’s Dad has been working away a lot. Stella lives with housekeeper Mrs Chapman and her grandmother, who is loving and kind but suffering from dementia. At school, Stella does not have any close friends and she feels increasingly alone and isolated.

When a new girl called Cam arrives, Stella is happy to enjoy a blossoming friendship. Cam is dramatic and bubbly and brings a different energy to the mostly female cast of characters.


Stella is pleased to have a friend to confide in as there is a lot on her mind, especially when she begins to suspect a highly unusual secret about her mother. Why is there such a strange family relationship with water? Are Grandma’s odd comments about mermaids just part of her dementia or is there more to them? What does the picture of a mermaid drawn by her mother mean and why had it been hidden away? Stella decides it is time to investigate her suspicions and she sets off on a mission to uncover the truth.

What follows is a thoroughly gripping adventure with dark twists and turns, fascinating characters and just the right amount of suspense to keep readers' eyes glued to the pages until a resolution has been reached.


I enjoyed how the narrative kept one foot firmly in reality while exploring fantasy with the other. I found the element of magical realism to be a clever way of portraying Stella’s processing of grief and loneliness. Stella’s quest to find a fairy tale aspect to her family history demonstrates how stories bring both hope and a framework of understanding to children as they process the world around them.


The difficult themes of bereavement, dementia and abusive relationships are handled with due sensitivity and there is nothing too frightening in this unusual story. The writing is compelling and the resolution is a satisfying one, with plenty to feel optimistic about at the end.


With a highly original concept, mesmerising storytelling and a beautifully portrayed exploration of character identity and relationships, I highly recommend this for Years 5-6.


Order The Girl Who Thought Her Mother was a Mermaid online or from your local bookshop or library.



Many thanks to the publisher for kindly sending me a review copy of this book.



Join our newsletter to find out about our brand new booklists, reviews and updates on new children's books.

Click here to sign up.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram Social Icon

Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, BooksForTopics earns from qualifying purchases.  Click here to learn more.