The only member of Jessie Kettel’s family who seems excited about vacationing in Rhode Island is her father. Her beautiful older sister Julia is too interested in her social life, abruptly cut short by a lack of cell phone reception. Her younger brother Jonathan misses their mom, who had to stay in Pittsburgh to work. Jessie just doesn’t seem to get along with anyone these days.
When she sees the pond behind the rickety house they have rented, Jessie decides to explore. She likes being alone and the reeds surrounding the water give cover. There she finds a raft, and it soon becomes her daily means of escape.
In her travels, Jessie befriends Terri, an abused girl from a family with a murky past. Jessie sees beyond appearances, though, and learns that Terri is vulnerable under her tough exterior. The two girls spend hours each day fixing up the old raft and sailing on the pond. They are even “befriended” by Henrietta Cutting, an absent-minded elderly woman who cannot forget her tragic past.
Meanwhile, Julia begins to date a young college boy who has a reputation for trouble. Terri confides to Jessie that he picks up the most unsuspecting girl around each summer and implies that he even got one girl pregnant, but his father “paid to have it taken care of”.
Janet Taylor’s novel combines themes of friendship and loyalty with a murder mystery. Jessie and Terri develop a relationship that they are forced to renounce. Terri gets in trouble with the law and disappears, leaving both Jessie and the reader wondering what will happen to her. Jessie’s parents believe Terri will lead Jessie astray, and Mr. Kettel even lies to the police to protect her. The author seems to want to make a statement about the judgmental attitudes of middle class families, but it is presented in such a trite manner that it comes off as preachy.
The most disappointing aspect of the book is the lost opportunity to develop the relationship between Henrietta Cutting and the two girls. As Henrietta mentally drifts between the past and the present, the truth about her parents’ murder is revealed. Jessie and Terri are patient and kind enough to befriend this older person, but are never given the chance. In the end, all three of them are separated and lonely. While this sort of conclusion may have literary appeal to adults, it will probably leave young readers dissatisfied.
Jennifer Minicus is a teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.