The Line Tender by Kate Allen, 384 pp, RL 4
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Book purchased from Barnes & Noble,
Audio Book, narrated by Jenna Lamia,
purchased from Audible
If you want a great, short synopsis of the plot of The Line Tender (with no spoilers) click here because that is not what this is. I have been reading kid's books and thinking about them critically for over ten years now, honing this skill during my time as an assistant to a literary agent. I spend a lot of time thinking about the qualities of a book - from the writing itself to the characters and plot. I also spend a fair bit of time thinking about what kind of books I like to read. There are books that I commit to reading and reviewing because I think they are important and worth sharing, and, while I am always glad I've read them, they are not necessarily books I would choose to read were I free to roam the vast world of kid's books. Even though I receive review copies, I end up buying more than a few books, especially if they are being talked about by people I respect in the world of kid's books and if they seem like something I'd enjoy. And I'll be honest, the books that I buy myself are usually fantasy because I want to escape when I open a book. When I bought The Line Tender, other than the great reviews I was seeing, I didn't know much about the plot except that the main character, Lucy Everhart, lived in a coastal town where her father was a rescue diver and her mother Helen, a marine biologist and shark expert, had died when she was seven. Not my usual purchase, as I tend to avoid kid's books where a character deals with death and grief. But, I stuck with The Line Tender and was greatly rewarded. As Helen Everhart, Lucy's mother, would say, "Don't resist pain."
Twelve-year-old Lucy Everhart narrates The Line Tender. I don't like books where child characters confront death and grief, but I do love books where child characters are seen, lifted up, guided or saved even, by a compassionate, caring adult. Lucy's world is populated almost entirely by adults, all of them kind and well meaning, yet there is never that major point in the novel when someone sees Lucy, sees her pain and her struggle, and guides her or lifts her out of her grief. Instead, these moments come in small revelations and connections, scattered throughout the novel like shells on the beach, making Lucy's triumph at the end of the novel, her journey to her self, more authentic, meaningful and potent.
Adults circle around Lucy's orbit. Her father, who was not much of a talker to begin with, is at home for the summer with his leg in a cast. Sookie, a fisherman, childhood friend to her parents and assistant to Lucy's mother in her efforts to tag great white sharks (and the person who was with her when she died), hovers around, bringing bags of groceries to Lucy and her dad. Mr. Patterson, an elderly neighbor, offers wisdom from his front porch. But it is Lucy who reads her mother's books and research proposal, it is Lucy who decides to call Vernon Devine, Helen Everhart's mentor, to ask questions about her mother. It is Lucy who puts in motion the trip to visit Vern in Maine. And, it is Lucy who reaches out to Dr. Robin Walker, the Marine Fisheries Biologist who was inspired by Helen Everhart's work and has been trying to carry out the same research. As Lucy makes these seemingly small moves, each one puts her in contact with someone who can help her make sense of the losses she has experienced and the life ahead of her.
Author Allen crafts this path for Lucy, who, despite her losses, remains an open and observant person, curious about the world around her, so subtly and wonderfully. While Lucy's grief manifests itself in her inability to swallow solid food and noticeable weight loss, she does not shut down and shut out the world around her despite her sadness. Marion, Vern's nurse, notices this and gently asks Lucy about it, offering the simple wisdom; her body knows what to do, let it do its job. Mr. Patterson, himself still grieving the death of his wife decades ago, helps Lucy understand her father better, telling him that Helen, when she was alive, helped her dad connect with people, saying, "if he was prone to turning inward, she helped him look outward." And, in my second favorite moment that comes close to the end of the book, Lucy's father says to her, truly seeing her, "You'd make a good line tender. . . The line tender sees everything. Reads the divers' signals, the terrain, the equipment. Uses all the resources to stay connected to the other end of the line." Lucy asks who is at the other end of her line, sure it can't be her mother or Fred because she has lost them. Her father reassures her, "Some lines don't break."
In the climax of The Line Tender, that moment where Lucy might be seen by a savior-type, she makes her own salvation, her own path forward, once again. Her reaching out to Dr. Walker means work for Sookie, the kind that pays and the kind that heals, as he finally finds himself able to rejoin the work that Helen was doing when she died. It also means that Lucy gets the chance to see some of this work done. I'll be honest, I was sobbing off and on for most of this book, but Allen's ending to Lucy's story was a one-two punch for me and I don't want to deprive anyone of that intensely emotional experience. How Allen ends The Line Tender is deeply, deeply satisfying, powerfully meaningful and rich with the kind of symbolism and significance that reminds me of why books are important, what they bring to my life and how, as Alain de Botton said, books "explain us to ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated and less alone." Reading The Line Tender explained to me why I need to stop avoiding books where a character deals with loss and grief and left me feeling less isolated and less alone.