A tsunami claims the life of Frank Mercy’s wife and unborn child Christmas Eve on Bribie Island, north of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. Frank, a retired police officer and volunteer fireman, attempts to rescue the occupants of a sinking van. The older lad trapped inside insists he save the younger one first. He does but the woman and other boy slip away. Frank is compelled to keep the child. He confirms him the son of a deceased relative, calls him Ian and moves to his family’s horse farm in Wisconsin. Ian manifests an extraordinary mind able to change people’s behaviour. The boy assumed drown survives. He is revealed Ian’s older brother, Colin whom Frank adopts as well. Colin has telepathic ability and thugs keen to employ the sibling’s gifts for nefarious purposes attempt to abduct them. Frank does whatever necessary to hold them safe and, as such, a riveting conflict drives Two If By Sea. Jacquelyn Mitchard’s novel, however, also explores the human response to grief, the many kinds of love and our capacity to heal, move past tragedy and begin anew.
The four-hundred page book is organized into thirty-three chapters with Frank’s chilling account of the approaching tsunami on the second page drawing the reader into the looming horror and the consequences it will precipitate at the start.
“He saw the wave as a gleaming dam, built of stainless steel, standing upright in the misty moonlight, fifty feet tall and extending for half a mile in either direction.”
From this point, the story spans a two year period set in Australia then Wisconsin, North Carolina and finally, Yorkshire, England. The author creates a vivid sense of locale with this Chapter Thirty excerpt describing the village of Stead, England as testament.
“Houses and stores bumped up against the thoroughfare, with no front yard or parkway except a scrap of tufty grass tucked behind ancient dry stone walls-their slabs stacked like shrunken books. At the back of buildings that clustered together like a toy village, there were small yards, with play structures, tumbles of wild roses and balls of shrub, that rose up to the curved and clefted hills,.…”
The threading of local language throughout the text also strengthens authenticity. Weaving Australian terms such as lamingtons, a popular Brisbane dessert and jackaroo, a young man working on a cattle ranch are apt examples.
A meticulous work, Mitchard’s depiction of the equestrian world serving as a backdrop merits note. A jockey and Olympic hopeful are among the characters that provide technical details. Their various perspectives shed insight as do incidents involving injuries to horses, skill clinics for novice riders and competitive events.
There are two recommendations for improvement. The inclusion of a map would have aided the reader in locating Bribie Island thereby enhancing understanding of the devastating impact of the tsunami. Julia Madigral, an acquaintance of Frank’s new girlfriend, Claudia is presented as a mysterious woman. An adult with ability similar to Ian’s; Frank is perplexed with a youthful appearance inconsistent her chronological age. His comments raise intrigue but as an explanation is lacking, the reader is left an incomplete profile.
The book is a worthy read especially since the author is deft with dialogue. The Chapter Fifteen exchange between Frank and Claudia who is also a psychiatrist with regards Ian and how children express grief is penned with thought-provoking brilliance.
“She (Claudia) described it as “taking bites.” Little children, who didn’t have the large vocabulary necessary for ritual mourning, were sad in small “bites,” but then rushed away to play….Kids just didn’t look the way we think people look when they’ve suffered a tremendous loss.”
At the end of Two If By Sea, conflicts are resolved satisfactorily and a reasonable scenario crafted for the future. The final chapter reassures us magic exists in our everyday world. Jacquelyn Mitchard has written an inspirational tale celebrating the possibility of life after loss.