Kate Allen’s noteworthy debut novel, The Line Tender, is a big-hearted story about friendship, grief and recovery set in the 1990s. Twelve-year-old Lucy Everhart’s summer is off to an exciting start when a fisherman in her town of Rockport, Massachusetts, catches a great white shark. Lucy and her best friend and neighbor Fred are overjoyed because they’re working on a field guide of local animals for their science project, with Lucy illustrating and Fred providing scientific data of specimens they encounter, and this will be an exciting entry. But the great white stirs up memories of Lucy’s mother, a shark expert who died of an aneurysm five years ago.
Unfortunately, another tragedy strikes and kills another loved one, and Lucy and her father, a diver for the police department, are left to piece their lives together once again. Allen seamlessly weaves in intriguing facts about marine biology throughout this story, and her narration is strikingly authentic and subtly nuanced, whether she’s describing a joyful afternoon trip into Harvard Square or the painful moments when Lucy’s grief is so all-consuming that she can’t eat for fear of choking.
Lucy’s heartache does help lead her back to her mother, “whom everyone seemed to know better” than she did. She becomes engrossed in a research proposal her mother wrote just before her death to tag and study great white sharks, whose numbers seem to be increasing off the New England coast.
A grieving Lucy is buoyed by a cast of helpful adults, including her father, a kind neighbor, her science teacher, a guidance counselor, and a number of researchers who worked with her mother, including one who says, “All life is interconnected. If one species moves away or becomes extinct, the order shifts.” Numerous middle grade books deal with grief, but few do it so beautifully―and hopefully―as The Line Tender.