In Kate Allen’s lyrical novel, The Line Tender, budding middle school artist Lucy Everhart experiences a summer of discovery and loss in her seaside Massachusetts town. When the story opens, Lucy and her best friend Fred are abuzz over a fisherman landing a Great White Shark, rarely seen in their waters. The pair is working on an extra-credit science project, a field guide of wildlife in their area, and the shark will be an exciting addition.
But there’s a deeper wrinkle to these events. Lucy’s mom, a marine biologist who died when her daughter was seven, had specialized in sharks, and was working on funding an important shark study just before she died. As a way of better understanding her departed mother and dealing with that loss, Lucy turns her attention on sharks and her mother’s study. But before she and Fred can get too far with it, tragedy strikes again.
Some older kids, including Fred’s sister, invite Lucy and Fred on a moonlight swim in an abandoned quarry. Alcohol is passed around, and before you know it, Fred dives down… and doesn’t resurface. Rescue divers, including Lucy’s father, search the murky quarry, but Mr. Everhart finds Fred too late, injuring himself in an effort to free the boy’s body from underwater snags.
Again, Lucy plunges into the depths of sorrow. Fred was more than her best friend; she was starting to experience romantic feelings toward him — and as she learns from her neighbor, Mr. Patterson, Fred was feeling the same way toward her. Unable to swallow easily as a result of her grief and shock, Lucy loses weight and writes postcards to her dead friend, trying to come to terms with her loss. Slowly, she begins to reach out, getting support from Mr. Patterson, a school counselor, and Fred’s sister, as Lucy navigates her way through grief.
Through it all, she continues to try to understand her mom’s research project, which leads to new maritime adventures, new friendships forged, and a new understanding of herself, Fred, and her mother.
This story sneaks up on you as it ambles through its twists and turns, until by the end it wields a true emotional wallop. Lucy and Fred make for believable, sympathetic heroes, and Lucy’s realizations about sharks, her mother, and herself will resonate with readers long after the book’s cover closes.