Stella has run away before, always unsuccessfully, but now it is serious. She is serious. She is determined to find out the truth about her mother because Stella thinks that maybe her mother was a mermaid. She has one clue – a name, Lastland Island. That is her destination but what she finds there will not only be stranger than she can imagine but will land her in real danger.
This is a very enjoyable adventure, where reality mixes with a fantasy in which the author has indulged in “what if..”. It might be described as “magical realism” or perhaps a “fantasy” but these epithets would be incorrect– both the Stella’s world and adventure and the fantasy element are too real for either to fit neatly. Nor will the reader care since Unsworth’s imagination convinces from the first sentence to the last. Her prose is clear and direct and the reader’s sympathies are quickly engaged. Stella’s longing to find out more is very understandable as is her home situation with a father immersed in work. Characters are neatly drawn. Both Stella and her best friend Cam emerge as credible schoolgirls while even the frightening Marcie convinces in her obsession and cruelty. At the heart of the story anchoring it is a strong ecological message; what would the reader do if faced with a fantasy creature? What would be the consequences of publishing such a find? There is a trend with authors exploring this particular mix of the real world with the fantastical. This is an example to be welcomed – and not least for the attractive design both of the dust cover to the page decorations subtly breaking up the text. This is one to recommend to KS2 readers who are already exploring worlds that challenge the imagination.