Twins Jamie and Ned have always explored their seaside world together, but now Ned is dying of cystic fibrosis, and Jamie has to learn how to forge ahead without him.
During their shared adventures they’ve collected the flotsam that’s washed up on the shore. After a storm, the white English boys find in the seaweed a strange creature Ned names Leonard (after Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy), bring the injured animal home, and hide it in a tub in the garage. They quickly realize it may be a merman. Their grandfather, not knowing their secret, relates stories of mermen taking dying people into the sea, but the yarns are ambiguous. Were the dying people saved by the mermen? Ned, the bolder twin, accepts this uncertainty and bonds with Leonard, recognizing their shared fate. Jamie convinces himself that the merman is there to provide a miracle, yet fearing otherwise, he detests the bond his twin has formed. Tender Granddad’s tales provide ample foreshadowing of a tragic end, even though Jamie struggles to prevent it. Ultimately, Ned chooses his own fate, and Jamie is left to cope. In spite of the Kleenex-worthy climax, a gentle, even joyful, conclusion offers a life-affirming message. A character study of the 11-year-olds, cleverly interwoven with Ned’s favorite Star Trek plots, contrasts the dying twin’s bold attitude against Jamie’s cautious reckoning.
Engagingly, this short, fine effort set in the early 1980s compassionately whispers a message of hope. (Historical fiction. 11-16)