In brief: Geneva Reade has waited thirty years for a message from her husband, whose ship the Amaryllis sank to its doom while she and her son watched from a cliff. Now that son has a family of his own, and when Geneva breaks her ankle combing the beach for a message she still believes will come from her lost husband, George’s daughter Jenny comes to help her grandmother. Geneva is less concerned with housework than with continuing her search for that long-awaited message, so Jenny takes her grandmother’s place on the shore, continuing her search and meeting another mysterious searcher with an agenda of his own.
What makes it a great readaloud? Babbitt’s novel is just spooky enough to keep you on the edge of your seat (but not spooky enough to keep you up at night), and its ragged edges leave plenty of fodder for conversation. It’s a lingering, atmospheric middle grades novel that gives readers credit for being able to draw their own conclusions. And its lyrical celebration of the sea’s lure is particularly lovely.
Be be aware: The resolution doesn't tie the story up in a neat bow.
Quotable: "Gran was not like other grandmothers, smelling of starch or mothballs, depending on the time of the year, and spending their time watering their plants. Gran stood straight and proud. Her face and arms were sunburned. And though she talked and listened, there always seemed to be something else on her mind, something far more absorbing than Christmas conversation."