Insights into the lives of troubled and often violent youths, by a young man whose own past has certain parallels with theirs.
Robb, a teacher, editor, and sometime carpenter, takes a position at the Penikese Island School, a residential center for delinquent boys near Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where seven or eight boys at a time spend six months on a tiny (75-acre), isolated island under close supervision. While instructing them in grammar and introducing them to poetry, the author also teaches them about respect, responsibility, and the consequences of their actions. When not in the classroom, he works with them: repairing lobster pots and boats, chopping wood, building stone walls, and preparing gardens. Along the way, he slips in lessons about the workings of a pump, the migration of birds, and the concept of nonviolence. A close observer of his young charges’ behavior (which is sometimes frightening) and their language (which is studded with obscenities), Robb looks for answers to the question of how these youths have become the violent, angry outsiders that they are. He comes to see them as outcasts, like the fearful Grendel in the Beowulf saga, having no elders to show them their place in the tribe and give them a sense of belonging. The introspective Robb also writes about his own abandonment by his father and ponders the question of whether he, so deprived, can ever be the elder a boy needs. Never entirely comfortable at the school, he was fearful not only of what the boys may do, but of what he may do in reaction. His leaving, when it came, was without a sense of closure and clearly with mixed feelings about his success.
Graphic images of adolescent life, softened by a vivid picture of the changing seasons on remote Penikese Island.