It's not often that I pick up a middle grade that makes me think of Margaret. I'm talking about Margaret of ARE YOU THERE GOD? fame, of course. I mean, there have been many books over the years that deal with coming of age and first periods and first crushes and all the hormonal insanity that is growing into your teen self. And many of these books are awesome in their own right. But none of them touched my heart the way Hélène Boudreau's REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS did.
Jade is almost fourteen when she gets her first period in a department store bathroom while trying to find a bathing suit that compliments her "muffin top." And she can't tell her best friend, Cori, since she kind of sort of fibbed about getting it back when everyone else did, when they were twelve. She can't tell her mom, since she died about a year ago -- and how Jade wishes she were there more than ever! She doesn't want to tell her dad, but is forced to when she realizes she spent all her money on the bathing suit post-period-panic and now hasn't got the cash for "feminine hygiene products." So Dad comes to the rescue, which unfortunately means loading up a shopping cart -- a shopping cart! -- with everything on the shelves while reading menstrual remedies aloud from Google results on his smart phone. Jade thinks she can just walk away and deal until Luke shows up. Adorable, evil Luke who has called her Scissor-Lips for years after a spin-the bottle accident that involved Jade's braces and Luke's head. Woops. But Luke looks different. And he's looking at Jade different. If only Dad didn't choose that moment to price-compare pads.
The worst part? The worst part is that the drug store fiasco wasn't the worst part. When Jade takes an Epsom-salt bath, she falls asleep in the tub. When she wakes up, she's sprouted a scaly, gross tail where her legs were. It can't be real, and yet it is. And that's when her dad breaks down and tells her: Jade's mom was a mermaid. And Jade is, too.
But here's the thing -- if her mom was a mermaid, how could she have drowned? As soon as Jade's legs have transformed back -- thank goodness! -- she wants to run to Cori and spill her guts, but sworn to silence she finds herself tangled up in secret after secret. And as the mystery of her mom's death begins to unravel, the lies she has to tell keep piling up. Jade feels like the worst friend ever as Cori begins to turn to the snotty Lainey instead, and even though she's starting to have mushy crushy feelings for Luke, she's got way too much on her plate to even think that he'd be interested in a plus-sized mer-girl anyway.
REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS is an unputdownable adventure, part Judy Blume, part Hans Christian Anderson, and 100% delightful, this fun, fresh tale (tail?) will have girls begging for a sequel. The mer-mythology is solidly constructed around an exciting story, and Jade's voice is so real, so authentically thirteen, that I feel like she's the girl next door. And, you know, I remember being that age. Getting your first period, having boobs that you're dissatisfied with (whether too big or too small), trying to figure out boys -- it's a lot like turning into an otherworldly creature, if you really think about it. Hélène Boudreau's REAL MERMAIDS is absolutely the book to share with your favorite pre-teen girl this December.
REAL MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR TOE RINGS is available next month on December 1st. Pre-order your jillion copies now, or head to your local bookstore or library STAT and make sure they'll be getting it in!