Fiction tends to follows certain rules, particularly fiction for kids. The reader is satisfied when the bad guys get their due, and when true friendship endures. But fiction based on a real event cannot necessarily follow those rules, because in real life, often good guys lose really badly and friendships get lost forever. In 1911, the lives and homes of the people of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine did get destroyed by some greedy, powerful men from the neighboring mainland. Nothing good came of it; the powerful men never got the tourist attraction they wanted and the people who lived there never came back.
Author Gary D. Schmidt populates this story with the new minister’s son who lives on the mainland and an orphaned girl, the youngest of several generations of African-Americans to call Malaga home. Turner finds his starched white shirts and the scrutiny due to the new minister’s son suffocating. He meets Lizzie, who rows over from her island to dig for clams on the mainland beach. Their instant liking for each other deepens into a solid friendship. He believes he can save her. She tells him he isn’t thinking straight. She is the wiser of the two.
This is a tale of the war between two human instincts: the desire to be generous and kind to others and the coexisting capacity to treat fellow humans cruelly and without conscience. It is told with a cast of colorful characters on a backdrop of natural beauty by a sensitive and lyrical writer. Written for middle school and older elementary school kids, it is also a joy to read for an adult.