If You Believe in Mermaids… Don’t Tell

Philips, A. A. If You Believe in Mermaids… Don’t Tell. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2007. 150 p. ISBN: 9781598583595. Paperback. $12.95.

Having just completed the minefield of seventh grade, Todd is faced with his father’s demand that he attend summer sports camp. When he finds a brochure for a nature camp, Todd enrolls there in order to avoid what he describes as, “a dismal choice of torture camps.” Still, Todd is worried about how other campers will perceive him, with his feminine ways, and practices his “boy walk” and masculine façade.

Philips’ intent here is great; she develops a character who is trying to be his own kind of boy: a gentle, feminine boy, a boy who fantasizes about mermaids and dreams about looking pretty, in a world where that is frowned upon. However, while Todd’s character is well-defined, the story falls short of appealing to any audience. While Todd is 13 years old, his mermaid fantasies and the desire to swipe a Barbie doll make him seem much younger. In contrast, a portion near the end of the book relates an incident where the camp bully gets a girl drunk, which gives Todd an opportunity to take a stance, but this scene doesn’t quite work and seems disconnected from the
story. At one point, Todd is called a “fag,” and at the end of the story, he sees men in dresses during the high heel race in D.C. Finally, there are editing errors in the book that make some passages awkward to read. Not recommended.

Reviewed by Sharon Flesher-Duffy
Library Media Specialist
Nashua High South (NH)



  1. This gently written,insightful book is so needed at the targeted level of early teens. From the author’s experiences of working with young people who are unsure of their sexual orientation and their families, come the dramatic and realistic interactions with peers. The protagonist, Todd, finds self confirmation and realizes he is not the alone.

  2. I have read this book and I think that what the reviewer fails to realize is that there is an audience out there that is not being represented. When you visit the webpage associated with the book you learn that, through the author’s search for resources to learn about gender variance, the author met wonderful professionals and many families with children just like Todd. Not every child is dramatically at the edge of a spectrum. http://www.believeinmermaids.net

  3. Mainstream publishers are not likely to take on books like this, so self-publishing may well have been the only option.

    I haven’t read the book yet, and thus won’t comment on it. That said, in general, it makes sense to have someone with an editorial eye look over a self-published title, as well as seeking feedback from the intended audience. I will say that the cover has no kid-appeal, and sadly, most kids do judge a book by the cover, going so far as to avoid books that have been re-bound in buckram.

  4. I feel it’s important to point out that Ms. Flesher-Duffy’s review is not completely negative, and contains many positive comments. It strikes a fine balance.

    However, the responses here are most welcome and are what we hoped would happen when we decided to post reviews on our blog.

    Librarians who read here will find both positive and not-so-positive commentary, and thus, will be better able to make informed decisions when considering purchasing this book for their collections.

    Thank you, everyone!

  5. “If You Believe Don’t Tell” has been nominated for the next Rainbow List.

    I have read it and found it to be a very moving and authentic realization of a gender nonconforming early teen.

    I am a psychologist and father of a gay son.

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