By Corinne Demas
Available now from Carolrhoda Books (Lerner)
RETURNING TO SHORE is a brief book, not particularly fast paced but a quick read by virtue of its brevity. It's cover is bleak, but the book is anything but. It's a simple tale, enlivened with a touch of quirk and symbolism.
Clare has lived with her mother since her parent's divorce. She loved her stepfather, and still misses him, even as her mother is marrying for the third time. But she doesn't have much time to contemplate her dislike of her new stepfather before she's swept off to a small Cape Cod island to live with her father while her mother honeymoons. Her father knows absolutely nothing about raising a teenager, and he's distracted by his work with turtles (terrapins, to be more specific). It's egg-laying season, and he intends to make sure that those eggs survive.
Seriously, it's a book about a daughter and father finding each other and themselves, and the father is obsessed with turtles and ensuring that their offspring survive. It's kind of absurd and obvious and it works. It's partially because turtle conservation is a real, serious thing. But it's more because the characters are richly drawn and their development is subtle.
In a novel as short and simple as RETURNING TO SHORE, everything hangs on the protagonist. I think I was first drawn to the clear gulf between what Clare knows and what the narrative insinuates that she doesn't. That her mother's relationships, particularly that with her first stepfather, are more complicated than she's been led to believe. Then there's her father, who knows quite a bit that he holds too tightly - knowledge that he should tell his daughter, at least if they're going to have a real relationship.
There's also a small subplot about Clare making friends of necessity with the other teen girl who lives on the island. There is, of course, inherent friction in the relationship made more out of proximity than true interest in what the other has to offer. At the same time, it's not like it's two people hanging out who secretly hate each other. Then, as Clare learns more about her friend, it conflicts with the things she's learned about her dad. And it's more than just differing environmental views.
RETURNING TO SHORE is a novel that doesn't rely on romance to deliver deeply felt emotion. It's a wonderful coming of age story, with a picturesque setting and a strong environmental message lurking not-far-back in the background. Is it strange to say that this is a book for Studio Ghibli fans? Because it is.