The novel is a book lover's dream. A bookseller sends Simon a vintage book in the mail. The book, Peabody's Menagerie, has information about Simon's relatives who used to work as circus performers.
Simon comes from a long line of "mermaids," women who are able to hold their breath for a preternaturally long length of time. Simon's grandmother and mother were both "mermaids" who tragically ended their lives.
While Simon's sister, Enola, insists that the women were simply sad, Simon believes something sinister is involved.
After being let go from his library position, Simon becomes obsessed with repairing his childhood home. The home, on the edge of cliff, is in danger of being condemned.
While the contemporary story has its interesting moments, the backstory is much more enthralling. Amos, a feral and mute boy, finds comfort and success in Peabody's traveling circus in eighteenth-century America.
Just as soon as Madame Rhzhkoza claims him as her assistant and son, he falls for Evangeline, a "mermaid," employed by Peabody. Like Simon she is a "breath holder," who can hold her breath for an inordinate amount of time.
Simon begins to wonder if the circus's past has effected his family's future. Did Madame Rhzhkoza's curse doom the female members of him family and possibly himself?
If you like this book you may also enjoy Menagerie by Rachel Vincent.