Fourteen-year-old Jake Cole’s father John has been missing and presumed dead for six months. John was a former quahogger in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, but he had to quit after an injury. He and his wife opened a diner, The Riptide, but Jake’s mom has a hard time keeping it up by herself. They owe $10,000 to loan sharks, who have given them until the end of the month to come up with the money or lose the diner.
Fortunately, it is summer, so Jake can work hard. He not only helps out at the diner, but also servess as a “picker” on a quahog boat with his dad’s best friend Gene. As the story begins, Jake gets an opportunity to make even more money doing some “extra-curricular” activities with a mysterious man who seems to have his interests at heart. What this man wants Jake to do isn’t necessarily ethical or legal. But then Gene gets injured and can’t work at all. Jake has to figure out what is the best course to take for him and his mom. Without taking the route of illegal activity, there are plenty people around who loved Jake’s dad and love Jake and his mom too, but is it enough?
Discussion: I really liked this story. Some of the plot threads get dropped, and not all of it hangs together well or seems realistic, but the depiction of the quahogging lifestyle at the core of the book is terrific. I also liked Jake’s reaction to seeing the burned skin of the girl he likes, who has always hid herself under long-sleeved shirts.
Nevertheless, this book will inevitably be compared to the coming of age story of thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley in the superbly lyrical book The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch (see my review here). I prefer to think of Lynch’s books on a different level altogether, and to judge this one for its own sake. For me, that meant that I liked Jake a lot, and I loved learning about quahogging. The atmosphere of this small town is so well-drawn I was reminded of another tour through fishing towns, Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey by William Least Heat-Moon, a memoir describing (in part) a trip along the coast with his wife in search of the perfect fish dip. Both the Lynch book and the one by Heat-Moon are wonderful, but I wouldn’t cross this one off the list.
Evaluation: This coming-of-age novel about a boy whose dad was lost at sea, and who now must take care of his family, makes you feel as if you are right there in Narragansett Bay with local clammers. There are some issues left unresolved, but they would make good discussion points for book clubs and parent co-readers.
Note: The publisher has marked this book as Age 12 and Up
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014