A tender coming-of-age adventure that entangles a young boy in pirate shenanigans with his first love.
In Two Harbors, on the tourist island of Santa Catalina, Calif., Zachary likes nothing better than fishing, sailing and playing with his sea lion friend Inky. But he’s been restless since his father, a marine biologist, passed away. His mother and uncle, Harbor Bill, just want to keep Zachary out of trouble. One day, while he and Inky explore the island’s coast, they get into a scrape with shellfish poachers. Later, Zachary is working at the ice cream stand when one of the poachers, a grizzled man with snake tattoos, threatens him. This low is tempered by the high of meeting Penelope, a cute, if snobby, redhead who’s visiting the island with her wealthy father. Zachary rescues her on a secluded beach prone to flooding, and she repays him with a sketch of Inky; they also enjoy fishing together, as well as a kiss, before her father’s yacht whisks her away until the summer’s end. Zachary now focuses on the poaching pirates and their boat, the Wild Russian. In Cat Harbor, when Zachary takes a tumble that knocks him unconscious, Inky must save the day—but later, the vile Snake Arm comes much closer to finishing off the pair. Debut author Layne superbly conjures a coastal atmosphere, filled with squawking sea gulls and clanking buoys. He also brings indelible sweetness to his depiction of young romance; as Penelope boards Zachary’s tiny craft, she almost slips into the water, but he catches her: “Their faces were just inches apart, and for a second, he felt her breath upon his cheek.” Once the adventure’s underway, readers get lively scenes impeccably visualized: “Waves as big as trailers plowed the hull, and the ocean tossed the dive boat like a cork in a Jacuzzi.” Layne executes thrills well, too, but burdens his novel’s second half with surrealism. A host of inanimate objects—such as Ace the bandage—speak with (and frequently rescue) Zachary. Still, there’s enough balance to deliver a winning conclusion.
Seaworthy beach reading for younger audiences.