Saturday, April 9, 2016

Two If by Sea by Jacqueline Mitchard

Two If by SeaAt one time Jacqueline Mitchard lived in Madison, WI and had a column in the Sunday newspaper which I never wanted to miss.  I liked her quirky musings about family, the seasons, and life in general.  When her novel THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN was Oprah's first pick and then made into a movie, I cheered, read the book, saw the movie, and continued to be a fan.  When she started writing teen novels, I bought the first ones for the high school library (I've since retired so I don't know if more have been bought).  But Jacqueline and family moved from Wisconsin and I sort of lost track of her writings.  When I saw that she had published a new book, I got my name on the waiting list at the local library.  When it came in, I needed to move it up on the reading pile so other patrons at our small library would have a chance.  The first page begins in Australia on Christmas Eve of the big tsunami; you can't start with more action than that.  An American living in Australia, Frank has just left his pregnant wife (married a short time) and her family at the hotel for a late evening walk when the big wave hits.  He can see it destroying the hotel and knows that no one has survived.  His police and emergency worker training kicks in and he makes it to safety, and the next day begins to help with recovery and rescue efforts.
His crew comes upon a partially submerged car with a woman and two young boys.  When Frank reaches to grab the nearest boy, the young boy tells him to save his younger brother first, and Frank is sure that the boy says the other one is special.  Frank has just grabbed the littlest boy and pulled him to safety when the car goes under.

Within hours of rescuing the boy, who remains completely silent, Frank knows he cannot part with the child, not knowing why.  Perhaps it is grief, he thinks. Despite a photo of him rescuing the child appearing in the paper, no one comes forward to claim him, and Frank decides to leave for America with the child.  This means forged passport and identity papers, but Frank finds a way to do it.
Very quickly he senses that there is something very different about the boy; he appears to have no fear, and can calm animals that no one else can, as evidenced when he walks right under a very temperamental horse on the Australian horse ranch where Frank works.  Back in Wisconsin, Frank and the boy whom he has named Ian begin to settle in with Frank's mother and sister, when strange happenings begin.  Clearly someone dangerous is searching for Ian, and more certainly the boy has some kind of physic powers, ones he uses for good but could easily be twisted by others for harm. The rest of the book is a mix of new romance for Frank, unnamed and mysterious villains, and a quest for safety for Frank's family that stretches across three continents.

I cannot give this book either an endorsement or a pan.  I was so excited to start the book and felt the early tsunami scenes were powerful.  I was delighted that the book was going to have a Wisconsin setting, but felt her portrayal of Southern Wisconsin just missed the mark, and I found that strange since she had lived there.  And while the English countryside setting of the last fourth of the book was charming, the reasons that drove the family there were just strange.  Throughout the book, I kept thinking that the authorities would have shown up or intervened, and I just could not get past that.
Plus I felt the writing throughout the book was uneven, delightful at times, but not consistent enough to pull everything together.  I've seen reviews by others who agree with my mixed thoughts, but I have also seen solid positive reviews.  Wonder what my book club and fellow readers would think?

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