review: A Comb of Wishes

title: Comb of Wishes
author: Lisa Stringfellow
date: Quill Tree Books; Feb. 2022
main character: Kela Hendy
middle grade fantasy; African American

references are to an advanced copy of the book

I’ve been waiting to read this one for months; ever since the author had a copy sent to me. I was only able to pick this up recently because I had so many committee obligations.

I’ve connected with Lisa Stringfellow via social media. She’s an educator with an MA from Michigan State University who currently lives in the Northeast. Much of the storytelling tradition in Comb of Wishes is derived from her father and his family who emigrated from Barbados. Her author’s note explains that she began writing this book in 2013 with the expectation to write a fantasy that her 12-year-old self would enjoy reading. “In crafting Kela, this book, also became a story about my family and my Caribbean heritage.” (p. 249)

Kela was introduce to fantasy through her mother’s work. As an academic, she collected and preserved folklore from the island of St. Rita where the family lived. Throughout the book, there are messages similar to this about the importance of protecting our heritage, whether it be stories or seashells. These are the things that connect us to each other and the environment.

Kela is feeling quite disconnected because her mother died just months prior to the beginning of this story. Kela has turned inward, becoming melancholy and no longer talking to her best friend, Lissy. Lissy’s not giving up on Kela and she happens upon her when Kela is out roaming for sea glass. Kela hears a strange calling (Issy doesn’t hear it) and it compels Kela to find its source and in doing so, she sets this story in motion. Crick. Crack.

It’s the comb, and its wishes, that connects everyone.

Kela has a good relationship with her father, but their grief separates them. She is able to turn to women she’s known most of her life for support and guidance. One is Joyce Callender (a scholar), her mother’s old friend who works at the St. Rita Museum and Historical Society and the other is Miss Inniss, Lissy’s mom (a storyteller). They nurture Kela and because they know what they know, are able to trust her. Don’t we all need someone like that? The women in the book have very strong bonds.

I appreciate the Kela is able to realize when she needs an adult; she is after all, only 12! She’s able to do a lot on her own, but she’s working against a mermaid here and could really use some help! I thoroughly enjoyed how well this debut author worked to build so many connections in the story, giving it meanings on so many levels and providing so many takeaways for readers. While the conflict was quite real, the connections were the true strength of this story.

I’m really glad I was finally able to get to this book. It’s obvious that Stringfellow put much time and dedication into Kela.