This lovely character driven story takes place over the course of a day, but Appelt skillfully uses flashbacks to weave a complex tale of love and longing among the residents of Oyster Ridge Road. Keeper, who's mother left her seven years earlier, is convinced that her mother is a mermaid and can make this disastrous day right. There's Signe, her mother's very young friend, who took over being Keeper's mother even though she was barely eighteen. There's Dogie, the stuttering war vet, who has been in love with Signe for ten years. And finally Mr. Beauchamp, a man as old as barnacles, who is waiting for a wish to come true. As interesting as these human denizens are, there is also a menagerie of animals, including BD (Best Dog), and his best friends BD Too (Too, for short), Sinbad, the one-eyed cat and Captain, a seagull with a love for watermelon.
There has been a bit of Newbery buzz over this one and it's certainly well deserved. It's rich and complex. The language is beautiful. I really felt I knew Oyster Ridge Road; could picture it in my mind's eye and smell the salt air. It's steeped in mythology and magic just as in The Underneath. But I wonder, just as I did with The Underneath, whom the audience is. It is rather sophisticated for the tween audience that is implied by a ten-year-old main character what with the runaway mother and very young single foster mother. She has a father figure in Dogie, who is in love with Signe and a grandfather figure in Mr. Beauchamp who is waiting/ wishing for his long lost love, Jack. As nontraditional as anything, these people have knitted a loving family around each other. Keeper begs to be discussed at any age.
Kathi Appelt narrated her own work. The narration was produced by one of her sons. I liked the gentle lilt of her voice and accent. I have filed away her pronunciation of ukulele with a short "u" along with E. B. White's pronunciation of coyote as "coy - yot," long "o" no long "e." Charming and memorable.
Coincidentally, in January of 2009, I read an account of de Vaca's expedition in Texas. It was neat to make the connection between the event and the naming of the sand bar that supposedly started it all.