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Leann Moody
Author Sheila A. Nielson visits Dixon Middle School.

"FORBIDDEN SEA," by Sheila A. Nielson, Scholastic Press, 296 pages, $17.99 (f)

The pouting lips of two young sisters who were glum that there were so few books about mermaids got Shelia A. Nielson seriously thinking about writing a book on the topic.

Nielson was working as a school librarian when the girls left the library looking "so sad" because the library only had a few books about the exotic, beautiful sea creatures.

Nearly six years and a few hundred pages later, Nielson has finally published "Forbidden Seas" her debut novel.

Don't let the topic of mermaids scare you away; even though the book is classified as being particularly for fourth-to-eighth-grade children, the book is extremely captivating and very difficult to put down, even for someone years older than the target audience.

"I tried to write a book that would be for all ages," Nielson said.

Nielson has succeeded in this goal. The main character is Adrianne Keynnman, a young teenage girl who is strong, good-hearted and very human.

The book is about Adrianne, who lives on an island that has been haunted by a mermaid for 100 years. The last time the mermaid visited the island, she took a girl named Lady Lauretta, the daughter of a lord, into the sea, and the girl never returned. Now, it appears that the mermaid is after Adrianne's little sister, Cecily.

Aside from this weighing on her mind, Adrianne also battles through other problems: loving a boy who does not return her affection; living with a little sister who Adrianne thinks is prettier than herself and who is also the favorite of her cruel, condescending Auntie Minnah; putting up with her callous peers; and trying to provide for her poverty-stricken family after the tragic death of her father.

"(Adrianne) is a very strong person, but because the people of the island don't see her that way . . . she doesn’t realize how truly wonderful she is," said Nielson.

Through her interactions with the mermaid, Adrianne finally begins to comprehend her true value.

Does any of this sound familiar (minus the mermaids)? It should. What adolescent has not gone through heartbreak, had a sibling everyone thinks is better or fostered feelings of low self-esteem? At least one of Adrianne's struggles is bound to strike a chord with readers.

Nielson said kids today are under a lot of pressure, and they experience many things that make them feel like they are not worthwhile and wonder if there is something wrong with them.

"I work with kids all the time, and they're all amazing," she said. "To me, they're all like the girl in my story; they don't realize how wonderful they really are."

The sheer reality of Adrianne's character and her experiences make the book amazing and applicable.

Nielson developed the other characters fabulously as well; Auntie Minnah is so despicable that reading about her became very frustrating at times, and some characters were worthy of deepest loathing while others were extremely likable.

The characters are entertaining throughout the story, and the action takes off from the first page.

Those skeptical of a mermaid book need only give the book a few pages to be swept up in its thrilling pages.