The Line Tender

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Book Review

The Line Tender by Kate Allen tells the story of Lucy Everhart, who comes to terms with her mother’s and best friend’s deaths by studying sharks at Cape Cod.

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-olds Lucy Everhart and Fred Kelly are best friends and spend their summer working on a science project they call a “field guide.” They also collect money from pay phone coin returns. One day a great white shark is caught in a fishing net and brought to shore by a fisherman named Sookie. The two tween investigators marvel at the shark and plan to add it as an entry in their field guide. Fred does the research for the report, and Lucy draws the specimens.

A history of Lucy’s mother (Helen) — a marine biologist who died of a brain aneurysm five years earlier — is presented. Sookie’s accidental great white shark catch is featured on the local news, and Lucy sees historical clips of her mother talking about great white sharks. Once again, Lucy feels grief over the loss of her mother. Part of Helen’s history is Sookie, who was a long-time friend. Sookie hadn’t been involved as much in Lucy’s life after Helen’s death, but finding the great white reunites them.

Fred becomes obsessed with the dead shark and borrows some of Helen’s marine biology books and reports. But his and Lucy’s research is thwarted when the shark’s carcass mysteriously disappears from the beach.

Lucy begins to explore the newfound feelings she has toward Fred, as they spend time together. She especially enjoys when they share innocent physical touches, such as when Fred pulls something out of her hair or their feet accidentally touch.

Lucy’s homelife is described as lonely. Her father works a demanding job as a police detective and volunteers as a rescue diver. He has a difficult time making sure food is in the house because he forgets to buy groceries. Lucy is often hungry. Her neighbors help fill the gaps in her life, and the 1996 Rockport, Massachusetts, community becomes increasingly important to the story.

Lucy’s neighbor Mr. Patterson is an elderly widower who sits on the front porch, watching everything and missing his wife. He knew Helen when she was a young girl. He supports Lucy as best he can. For example, when Helen died, Mr. Patterson had the job of telling Lucy.

The Kelly family also lives nearby, and Fred’s mother, Maggie, and his older sisters — Fiona and Bridget — are part of Lucy’s everyday life. When Lucy gets her period, she goes to the Kellys’ home to get Tampax. No women are home, but Fred is. He calmly gives the feminine hygiene supplies to her and also offers her Midol.

Fred and Lucy agree to accompany Fiona and Bridget to a movie one evening. But instead, the sisters and their older friends take Fred and Lucy to “the quarry,” a swimming hole off of Cape Ann. There is little moonlight, and the setting is dark and cold. The older teens swim. Afterward, Boone’s Farm wine is passed around, and Fred takes several sips from the bottle, to the astonishment of Lucy and his sisters. Lucy, feeling a bit of peer pressure, takes one sip and passes the bottle.

Fred, staying in his shorts, decides to swim and begs Lucy to join him. She does, wearing her shorts and shirt. They jump in together. Fred never surfaces, and rescue divers come in. (The title of the book comes from terms used by the rescue divers. “The Line Tender” is the person who holds a line that acts as a guide for the rescue divers, who can’t see due to the darkness and the amount of sediment in the quarry water.)

Lucy’s father is one of the rescue divers, and his foot is crushed by a tree limb during the body recovery process. At Fred’s funeral, Lucy develops a panic-induced swallowing problem that keeps her from eating. To express her loss, she writes Fred postcards and mails them without adding an address.

Maggie Kelly and her daughters feel responsible for Fred’s death. Maggie is especially angry at the oldest of the teens who went to the quarry — Sookie’s 17-year-old-deckhand, Lester. She thinks he should have avoided the risk of swimming in the quarry since he better understood the area’s dangers.

Fred’s sisters feel guilty for lying about where they were going. Maggie’s tension is somewhat resolved when Lucy’s father reminds her that they swam in the quarry when they were teens, too. He says that rather than be angry at the teens, the adults need to come alongside them and offer support. Rather than placing blame, Maggie chooses to see Fred’s death as a tragic accident.

As Lucy begins to get over the shock of Fred’s death, various adults from the community come alongside her. The science teacher, the school counselor, Mr. Patterson, Sookie, her father, her mother’s former colleagues and Fred’s sister all contribute to a sort of healing as Lucy pursues finding out more about her mother’s research project.

Lucy takes a trip with Mr. Patterson, Sookie and her father to visit her mother’s former research supervisor. Mr. Patterson uses the trip to scatter his wife’s ashes in an area they used to go on dates when they were young. Lucy observes his grief and has empathy for him, especially when she discovers that Fred had prepared a special girl-friend type gift (a mermaid necklace) for her before he died.

Eventually Lucy goes out on an expedition to find sharks with marine biologists, surprising everyone when she is able to tag one. She names the shark she tags “Fred.”

Christian Beliefs

Church is mentioned, but Lucy’s mother didn’t think any single religion was perfect. To her, church was a place to sense a higher power. There is mention of Helen attending church on Christmas and Easter. It is implied that her family went with her. Fred’s funeral is held in a church.

Other Belief Systems

Lucy mentions bad karma.

Authority Roles

The adults in Lucy’s life are caring and supportive. The science teacher, the school counselor, Mr. Patterson, Sookie, her father, her mother’s former colleagues and Fred’s sister support Lucy during her grief.

Her father, however, seems to be negligent at times, and Lucy becomes the caregiver. For example, Lucy begins to have trouble swallowing, but her father never seeks medical attention for her, even after she starts losing weight. Maggie, Fred’s mom, often smells of alcohol. Mr. Patterson carries his wife’s ashes in an urn on a road trip.

Profanity & Violence

God’s name is taken in vain with the words oh and oh my. The name of Jesus is used with the words sweet and Mary and Joseph. Christ is used as a swear word. There is a reference to Miles Davis’ album B–ches Brew. Lucy and Fred call each other vulgar names having to do with “claspers,” which are male shark genitals. Holy fish and crap are used often.

Sexual Content

Anatomical parts of sharks are mentioned: vagina, penis (called a clasper) and uterus. When Lucy gets her period, she goes to the Kellys’ home to get Tampax. No women are home, but Fred is. He calmly gives her the feminine hygiene supplies and offers her Midol. Lucy finds herself attracted to Fred. She especially enjoys when they share innocent physical touches, such as when Fred pulls something out of her hair or their feet accidentally touch. Minutes before Fred dies, Lucy and Fred kiss on the shore, acknowledging their awakening attraction to each other. It’s implied that the older teens are skinny dipping.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

Misleading facts: Some of the shark facts in the book aren’t as accurate as they sound. For example, a marine biologist says that a person can count the rings on a shark’s vertebrate to know how old it is. According to the Smithsonian, this is a very unreliable measure and only works on some sharks. Another misrepresentation example quotes JFK as having said, “[T]he percentage of salt in our blood is the same as what’s in the ocean.” It’s true that JFK said this, but he was misinformed. Saltwater is 3.5% saline and human blood is 9% salt.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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