A far more traditional juvenile novel than Chambers' Breaktime (1979), this centers on a decisive, courageous action undertaken by William, who is first seen grumbling on arrival at a cabin in Wales when he had hoped the family would vacation as usual in a trailer by the sea. His discontent is compounded by local Gwyn, who ridicules William's ineptitude at sports and tree-climbing, though conceding that the English boy is pretty good at drawing. (""I'll call you Picasso."") Then Gwyn's father and William's dreadful parents decide the two boys should camp together. Neither boy wants the other, but Gwyn has been more or less bribed by his father and so, as a sort of bribe to William, offers to show him a ""secret"": a young seal Gwyn plans to imprison to start a seal farm. Thus William--who doesn't like to fight but would, he has said, over something important--knows he has to defy Gwyn and save the seal. It isn't easy, and as William struggles with the seal and the sea Chambers shows his fear and his determination without heroics. The mission succeeds, but William is dashed against a rocky shore and spends his vacation in hospital. ""I didn't mind,"" he says later about the hospital, and that exemplifies his own style and the underplayed tone of the story. The boys do not become friends, as they would in a less thoughtful story, but William wonders if they might have in other circumstances. The last scene, before William's family leaves for home, has the boys ribbing each other, and Gwyn taunting William that there will be more seals to catch once William is gone, as unwitting adults give their words an edge of irony. William's parents, unaware of the cause that sent him off in a plastic dinghy, continue to put him down. But readers recognize what William has accomplished and what it will mean to him.