If You Believe in Mermaids . . . Don't Tell

A Novel by A. A. Philips
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Praise for
If You Believe in Mermaids . . . Don't Tell
"If You Believe in Mermaids... Don't Tell is a must read for all young people. While geared to the middle school student, the story shows us all how to deal with friendship, being different and fitting in. Additionally, we are exposed to typical peer, sibling and parent-child relationships that teenagers must learn to negotiate every day. Philips has created a masterful story that gives us hope that even though we may encounter bullying, harassment and teasing for not being like everyone else, we can overcome these issues and become stronger as a result. If You Believe in Mermaids... is so well written, I couldn't put it down. It will be an inspiration to anyone who has struggled to fit in and who wants to be accepted. All school counselors should have it on their bookshelf."
-- Bob Bardwell, American School Counselor Association Vice President, Secondary School Level

"If You Believe in Mermaids .. Don't Tell is an amazing book that is very well written. A. A. Philips is an amazing writer and I would like to thank her for writing such a great book and for letting me read it. I'm a fourteen year old girl, and in some ways I can relate to what the book is about, someone who is shunned for being different. I think it should be a compulsory book that all children should read. And I wish that it had a sequel. If You Believe in Mermaids … Don't Tell is one of the best books I've ever read. I would give it ten out of ten."
--Tiana J.

"I'm a 14 year old boy. I've read the first three chapters of the book and loved it!!! I really connected with him, I had the same relationship with my dad, and I felt I had to hide my feelings from my parents. I never really had a desire to play with "girl toys" but I didn't want to play with "boy toys". I recently discovered that I am gay and I was searching the internet for books that could help me through this time, and I came across your book. I've only been able to read the first 3 chapters so far but I already know that this book is one of the best i will ever read, and I thank you for writing it.... I noticed right after I wrote the message that the whole book was up so I read the rest of the book in a half hour, and I will buy a copy of your book from amazon and donate it to my school library in case another confused child comes across it. THANKS SO MUCH !!!!
-- J. A., Nevada

"There are now several books aimed at gay children or children of gay parents. But there is a relative dearth of books about transgender or gender-non-conforming children.
Two delightful new books seek to fill in the gap. 10,000 Dresses, aimed at young children, tells the story of Bailey, who dreams every night of 10,000 dresses. Her favorite is one made of crystals. One day, she asks her mother to buy her a dress like the one in her dreams. The mother's response provides the first clue about Bailey's troubles: "Bailey, what are you talking about? You're a boy! Boys don't wear dresses!" Bailey's response—that she doesn't feel like a boy—only brings on an angry admonition to never mention dresses again. From there on, we see Bailey falling in love with different dresses, only to be met with the disgust of her family. Finally, she meets Laurel, a girl who helps her make one of the dream dresses. This book is meant to be read aloud to young children, so it's best not to wonder, as an adult might, what happens to Bailey when she returns to her home. This short and lovely book gives young gender-non-conforming children a fantasy world where their dreams do come true.
If You Believe in Mermaids, Don't Tell, by A.A. Philips, is for young adolescents.
Todd is a 13-year-old boy who loves playing with dolls and dressing up in skirts. But he remembers all too well the fuss that erupted when he was caught in his mother's clothes as a child. His father, determined to make a boy out of the son he worries will not grow up to be manly enough, wants to sign him up for camp, and Todd hates sports. As a compromise, Todd is sent to nature camp, where he meets Brad, Sylvie and Olivia. Sylvie begins to ferret out Todd's secret, and Olivia is an odd and awkward girl who, like Todd, doesn't quite fit.
Philips writes a gently probing account of a boy who happens to want to do the things that, supposedly, only girls do. She combines all the classic elements of young adolescent literature—camp, bullies, a momentary scare and awkward kids stumbling into each other as they try to find their place in the world—with an accurate and non-pathological rendition of Todd's inner life. We see Todd's daily struggle to fulfill gender stereotypes. That includes monitoring his own body: "I'm careful how I move. I hold my shoulders stiff, so they won't swing. … But sometimes I forget." This is juxtaposed with his internal narratives about finding freedom, some of which involve fantasies drawn from fairy tales but also from the natural world he's made to explore as part of camp.
Will Todd or Bailey grow up to engage in gender-reassignment surgery? Or are they children whose gender performance will not match what society, for now, demands from them? Both books make it clear that the question is not about what choices the protagonists will make but that their ways of being in the world are just fine. "Just fine" may not seem like much but, as both authors indicate, it's probably the most and the best we can give them. What Todd and Bailey want is, on occasion, to be encouraged in their dress-seeking adventures but mostly to be left alone in their gender-non-conforming reveries. In a perfect world, that would be just fine with the rest of us."
--Windy City Times

"It is hard to imagine a better resource than If You Believe in Mermaids...Don't Tell, for children who find themselves outside the "norms" for their gender. It is also a great read for everyone. Ms. Philips deftly takes us inside the witty, frightening world of the highly realized and quite delightful Todd, building suspense like a top mystery writer, within seemingly ordinary summer camp experiences. The mystery is the human heart, as Todd is caught in the struggle between being who he really is, and the necessity to appear like other boys. Remarkably, Todd's sense of humor and irony allow the reader to veer back and forth between fun and fear, just as life often does for children of this age. This is a profound and gripping story. It will help children in similar situations, their parents, pastors, friends, and all who seek to understand children with compassion and healing care. I wish Mermaids could be required reading for every middle-school family, counselor, and church youth worker!"
-- Rev. Judy Young, United Methodist Church Pastor
"Well I finished the mermaid book. That was an awesome story. I could have kept reading until he grew up."
-- Vernon L.
"Todd Winslow, who has just finished seventh grade ... has always struggled with his own identity and what it means to be a boy, being perpetually measured against what his father views as the "perfect son".... Philips presents a difficult gender issue to readers in a delicate manner. The target audience is those who are just coming into their own and trying to define their own personal identity."
-- Children's Literature
"WOW, If You Believe in Mermaids ... Don't Tell is amazing. I am a gay teen and am not out yet so I didn't go up to my mom and ask her to buy it for me. But I plan on buying it as soon as I can. This book made me feel a lot better about myself and assured me that there are more kids like me. It is also cool that it takes place in the state in which I live. I wish that the book didn't end like it did. I wish I could read more about his life, but when I think about it it makes sense to end it the way you did. Thank you for writing this. This would make an AMAZING movie, the Dad (Darren) reminds me a lot of my father. This book was just so awesome. I am so happy I read it. Thank you."
-- Maryland teen
"I just read your book and I was so touched. My 11-year-old son and I read a chapter together the other night and he was hysterically laughing and saying 'he's just like me' -- so wonderful."
-- D.S., New York

"I've felt just like Todd feels. This book is my favorite next to Eragon."
-- 16-year-old, Utah

"If You Believe in Mermaids ... Don't Tell is a welcome and courageous book that speaks out for young people to be true to who they are."
-- Alex Sanchez, author of Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, Rainbow Road, So Hard to Say, The God Box, and others.

"This is a sensitive and moving story that explores the struggle and suffering of many young people. A must-read for every parent and teacher."
-- Deborah da Costa, author of Snow in Jerusalem and Hanukkah Moon.

"I cared about Todd at once; his quiet sense of humor, his generous spirit, his struggle to hide his inner nature, and his subsequent anxiety and fear that he will be found out. I also admired his courage, as exemplified by his willingness to put himself at risk so that, at least temporarily, he can be the person he really is. Todd is 'different,' yes, but what comes across so strongly is how absolutely 'normal' he is, sharing so many of the same hopes, dreams, impulses and shortcomings as every other kid. This is a very likeable story and a refreshing look into the heart of a great kid who views the world through a slightly different lens than most, but who only needs the acceptance of those around him to be able to flourish."
-- Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, author of Target, The Parallel Universe of Liars, A Fast and Brutal Wing, Gone, and others.
"If You Believe in Mermaids … Don't Tell gave me goosebumps. No other book out there so poignantly describes what it's like to be a feminine boy in our gender-rigid society. It is an honest, painful, and eloquent portrayal of the challenges boys like Todd face, and a tribute to the thousands of real boys out there like him. As a writer researching the lives of pink boys, I see that If You Believe in Mermaids is an accurate reflection of the heartache that pink boys and their families experience, and the relief that comes with acceptance. The message-- that pink boys best thrive when they are fully themselves--is universal and welcome."
--Sarah Hoffman, writer

"Very impressive. As a practicing behavioral therapist, I would recommend it to many of my clients. I think it is a well-told story of a kid struggling with his difference, but knowing within himself that he is really not so different. Being true to oneself is all that truly matters, and this book beautifully demonstrates that sentiment."
-- Jill L. Wittmer, Ph.D., Applied Behavioral Associates

"The dialogue and relationships among the teens in this book brought me back several decades. The author manages to convey the difficult, awkward early teen years in an easy, believable story. I will urge my children to read this book -- a wonderful way for them to think about the thorny issues raised in the simplest of everyday interactions, and to perhaps help them trust their own sense of what is right which will get them through more easily. Thank you for writing this important book."
-- S.W., Maryland
"What a wonderful, valuable book you've written! I was hooked from the very beginning. The characters ring very true -- especially Todd, who explains his point of view seamlessly and with such warmth. You have to love him! Conversations just fly by, being so realistic and finely-tuned to the middle-school ear. Todd explains his feelings so well, thinking he's unique, but hitting universal issues, pulling the reader's own memory-feelings of their own issues at that age right up to the surface. I really care about Todd and can't wait to buy the book so I can finish his journey. This is a book that needed to be written, and written with supreme sensitivity, knowledge, and wisdom."
-- A. Rogers, parent

"It's a wonderful story, true-hearted and stirring. I loved that the characters were not strictly black and white, but shades of gray like real people. I loved best his discovery of the high heel race, his astonishment and validation. As I read that part, I was wishing such good luck to all kids who are different, whether they're "too" tall or "too" fat or "too" poor or "too" geeky or sing in the bathroom or have an invisible friend or whatever. I bet that kids reading the book will feel the same."
-- M. Grady

"Thanks again for writing such a beautiful boundary-crossing book. It is powerful in its clarity and simplicity … It is an engaging story and the boy's voice is so clear and strong. He elicits empathy instantly and will open many hearts and minds. I am glad you have written his story... He must carry these feelings of fear and worry with him upon each new encounter; to not do so would be reckless or even dangerous. This is his perception and his reality. He cannot invite the possible ridicule or embarrassment by being just himself."
-- C.K.

"Todd and his story completely drew me in. This book is a rare find ... a different kind of hero's journey. Experience the struggles and the courage of a boy who, despite many forces that would stop him, must find his own way of being true to himself."
-- Phyllis Rothblatt, M.A., marriage and family therapist

"I read it in one sitting! I couldn't stop reading it! It seemed so realistic ... almost as if you were writing someone's biography. I really liked it!"
-- Kelley

"I really like the first 3 chapters, and I'm eager to find out how Todd manages his family, friends, and life as a teenager. My son is gay, so I relate to Todd in a special way. Good dialogue. All characters so far seem realistic, and contribute to the story's uneasy dynamic in a necessary way. I like the way you express Todd's thoughts."
-- P.O., California

"Finally we have a story that disputes the myth that all boys fit one form of masculinity. If You Believe in Mermaids ... Don't Tell gives comfort to boys who thought they were alone and provides an instructive message for adults who care about strengthening self-esteem in children. A. A. Philips implies ways of parenting beyond merely accepting difference -- a journey toward actively affirming and celebrating a child's precious gifts."
-- Catherine Tuerk, M.A., R.N., C.S., nurse psychotherapist

"This is truly a touching piece of literature! As an elementary school teacher, children need more exposure to the diversity of today's culture so that acceptance is not an issue for children who don't 'fit the mold.' There is no 'one size fits all.' Older children and young adults need to learn to support and embrace differences among peers as what a boring place it would be if we were all alike. I highly recommend this book!"

-- Tennessee elementary teacher

"Read this brave book to understand the world of the 'gentle boy.' A. A. Philips peers acutely into the soul of a boy outside the confines of traditional masculinity to reveal the joys and pains of growing up while feeling different. The protagonist identifies with mermaids, the haunting beings that embody the mystery of living in between two worlds, and thus he finds a safe haven amid the struggles to remain true to himself."
-- Edgardo Menvielle, M.D., child psychiatrist, Children's National Medical Center

"What a smashing book! It's dynamite! Loved it. Couldn't put it down. Your development of characters was superb. I feel as though I know Todd, his parents, his little sister, Sylvie, Brad, and Olivia as if I'd known them all my life."
-- Dr. Emmanuel Bernstein, psychologist and author of The Secret Revolution

"I couldn't put this book down. Its message of self-love and acceptance will strike a chord in all who read it."
-- Sue Shanahan, artist

"This book on a sensitive subject meets a need felt by young teens as they sort themselves out from the pressures of conformity."
-- Carlee Hallman, poet and author of Abide with Me