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26 April 2019 THE LINE TENDER by Kate Allen, Dutton, April 2019, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-7352-3160-3


“We’re off to see the Wizard

The wonderful Wizard of Oz

We hear he is a whiz of a wiz

If ever a wiz there was”

-- Judy Garland, et al. (1939)


“Have you ever wondered why you don’t see great white sharks in an aquarium? It’s not the size surely, we keep orcas captive - so why not great whites?

One of the last attempts to put a great white into captivity was at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan last year. It died within just three days. Before this, there have been dozens of equally depressing attempts to put great white sharks on display for the public…

Great whites and aquariums simply do not end well. There are a few theories why these ‘tough guys of the oceans’ fare so poorly in captivity...”

-- Tom Hale, IFL Science, “Here’s Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium” (8/5/17)


It’s Saturday night, and twelve year-old Lucy has packed her books and art supplies. She’s heading over to Fred’s house so they can work on their summer vacation extra credit field guide project. Besides being best friends since they were babies, they are a great team for this fun enterprise. Fred’s strength is science and Lucy is a budding artist.


“I knocked on the front door, but there was no answer, so I let myself in and pounded upstairs. If I knew what I was doing, I could have put together four complete outfits from all of the clothing and jewelry strewn on the hallway floor. I followed the music on the radio to the open bathroom door. Bridget sat on the toilet lid, lacquering her nails with ballet pink, the radio perched behind her on top of the tank. Fiona curled her eyelashes in the mirror. They were Irish twins, seventeen and sixteen.

‘Hi, Lu,’ said Bridget, dipping her brush into the polish, blowing like an oscillating fan over her nails.

Based on the amount of junk cluttering the counter--hairspray, plastic clips, cotton balls--it was either fixing to be a big night, or they were wasting a lot of time on preparation to just hang out and watch TV. Fiona pumped a couple of shots of hair gel into her hand and worked the blob into her wet hair. She reached for a plastic tray of cosmetics, the compacts clicking and bumping against each other as she dug for the right color.

‘Want me to do your makeup?’ she asked, turning to face me. I wanted to tell her she could do anything to me that she pleased, as long as I came out looking remotely like her.

‘Uh, sure,’ I said.

‘Sit here,’ Bridget said as she rose from the toilet lid, flapping her hands before taking her spot in front of the mirror.

Fiona hummed along with the radio as she looked me over.

Fiona’s face was close. It made me feel awkward, like I didn’t know whether to track her eyes or stare off into space. I zeroed in on the linen cabinet behind her, which reminded me of the day when I got my first period. I had been home alone and of course there was nothing under our bathroom sink except a barf bowl and some Q-Tips. So I had wadded up half a roll of toilet paper, stuffed it between my legs, and went across the street to Fred’s.

Fred had opened the door when I’d knocked. I’d asked him if any of the females of the house were available. Of course they weren’t, so I marched up to the bathroom without saying a word. The linen cabinet had been stuffed with feminine hygiene supplies, a city of boxes. I’d grabbed a few of each variety and stuffed them into my shorts, saving one pad to wear home.

When I’d opened the door, Fred was standing there.

‘I got my period,’ I’d told him.

‘Oh,’ he’d said. And I was surprised by how unaffected he’d seemed, like I’d told him I’d replaced the toilet paper roll.

He’d put his hand on my shoulder, to gently move me aside and started digging in the linen cabinet.

‘What are you doing?’ I’d asked.

‘Here,’ he’d said, handing me a bottle of Midol.

‘What’s this for?’ I’d asked, though I’d seen it on TV.

‘It “relieves the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome”,’ he read from the bottle.

‘But I think I have menstrual syndrome.’ I’d said.

He shook his head and pushed the bottle into my hand. ‘I think it’s all the same.’”


THE LINE TENDER is set in Rockport, Massachusetts, toward the end of the twentieth century, and features a multigenerational cast who have known one another forever. At the middle of this group of family and friends is twelve year-old Lucy Everhart, whose mom, Helen, died suddenly from an aneurysm five years ago. It’s clear that many people have been there for Lucy ever since.


I’ve never been part of a community like this and marvel at the connectedness. Lucy is being raised by her father, a rescue diver, with help from many family friends. She’s growing up in her grandparents’ former house, where her mother was raised. Their neighbor, old Mr. Patterson, has lived his life here too. Now a widower, he’d spent his life with a woman who’d been his best friend since toddlerhood. At one point we meet gray-haired Mrs. Lynch, who currently works at the bookstore, but who’d--decades ago--babysat Lucy’s mom when Helen was a little kid. There is a lot of love and caring going on here.


Helen, Lucy’s late mom, was a marine biologist who studied sharks. The summer begins with Sookie, Lucy’s dad’s old friend, accidentally snagging a great white shark in his fishing net and then bringing it in to shore. It’s unusual for great whites to be observed this far north, and it becomes the talk of the town. An entry about the shark is going to make an amazing addition to Lucy and Fred’s field guide, and leads the young friends to poke around in Helen’s old academic papers. There they discover a proposal for studying great whites.


THE LINE TENDER is a story of surviving change and loss. For Lucy. The sharks. The planet. And Mr. Patterson, who’d been the one to tell then-seven year-old Lucy that her mom had died.


It’s coming up on ten years since I read WHEN YOU REACH ME for the first time. It could well be ten years since I cried this much while reading a book.


There’s a brief scene where Lucy and Fred encounter a sea star with a missing leg. Lucy asks Fred, “How can they grow a new leg? Why can’t humans do that?” and Fred replies, “They’ve just figured it out.”


Life hands us comedy and tragedy, and survive we must, the best we can, loving one another and sometimes just stumbling ahead, figuring it out as we go along.


Shades of Dorothy: In order to make better sense of her mother’s old shark study proposal, Lucy embarks on a glorious two-day road trip up to Maine, accompanied by her father, Sookie, and old Mr. Patterson. What a hoot! There they visit with Helen’s now-95-year-old mentor, who is losing his mind but still clearly recalls the work of his all-time best student.


It’s not surprising to learn that first-time author Kate Allen grew up in this part of the world. There are a million little details that make setting such a strength of the story. And there are more than three dozen full-page or full-spread drawings, mostly of sharks, that immeasurably enrich the book.


2019 is already looking like a children’s lit embarrassment of riches. THE LINE TENDER is one of the sparkling jewels about which you’ll be hearing more.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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