If Phipson's opening paragraph seems trite and overreaching--with a rapt figure on the edge of an Australian cliff on a day when ""land and ocean were locked in battle""--the novel at once attains, and maintains, the aimed-for height and intensity. With Mark, now 14, readers relive that night when he was 10, en route with his mother to her family in England, when she slips from her bunk on a friend's boat and ends up overboard. Mark associates an albatross he sees next day with his mother ""on her way to a new life,"" and from then on the sea and the albatross species hold a special transcendent meaning for him. Otherwise life is flat and uninvolving, with his father (he later discovers) remarried and Mark packed off to his father's parents, who are kind but out of touch with his grief. Then Mark meets quadriplegic Connie and her mother, risks his own life to save the girl's when her wheelchair careens into traffic, and finds himself talking freely to them of his parents and his feelings of desertion. The new relationship heals and strengthens Mark, and Connie comes to share his vision of the albatross. Through this she comes to accept her own death, a belated result of the earlier car accident that had crippled her. Unlike so many bereaved and handicapped teenagers in American fiction, Phipson's characters, even those glancingly encountered, are projected with strength and subtlety. The atmosphere of the Australian coast is pervasive, so that far from seeming imposed on the action, Mark's peculiar sense of union with the sea comes through as a natural, but no less extraordinary, peak in the story's own tide.