Youngsters from a New England island in 1950 track down stolen loot and confront a dangerous band of thieves in Hufstader’s debut YA adventure.
It’s the weekend before the new school year starts, and four friends have just enough time for a seafaring escapade. Fifteen-year-old Sara Selph has earned her parents’ permission to do so by honing her sailing skills all summer; she and her little brother, Miguel, and their pals, 15-year-old fraternal twins Jon and Abbie Cooper, plan to sail from their town on Great Whale Island to the smaller Sei Island. Their plans are interrupted by Miguel’s inadvertent discovery of a golden crucifix on their boat. They take the valuable item to police chief Tom Cooper, the twins’ father, rightly assuming that it belongs to a local family whose home was recently burgled. Miguel later deduces that the notorious crew of a boat called the Thresher could have pulled off the theft, despite its rock-solid alibi. The method entails braving a dangerous channel called the Graveyard, and the friends want to prove Miguel’s theory. They get closer to finding the rest of the stolen booty with assistance from a retired fisherman known as Cap’n Ben, but the search soon becomes a rescue. Hufstader displays his nautical expertise with numerous tense sequences set on the water. They entail a plethora of maritime jargon; some gets context in the story itself, and an extensive glossary at the end acts as a helpful guide to the rest: “Sara put the engine in neutral, cleated the tiller lines, and hurdled the thwarts on her way to the bow.” The characters are well-developed and distinctive, as Hufstader establishes that skipper Sara makes executive decisions (including one to traverse the Graveyard); Jon is shown to have romantic feelings for Sara; and 11-year-old Miguel is revealed as a resident troublemaker. At the same time, the author uses nerve-wracking recurring appearances of the bad guys’ boat to increase suspense.
An often delightful tale that’s most exhilarating when its characters are at sea.