&Review: Two if by Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Two if By Sea by Jacqueline Mitchard. Publisher: Simon & Schuster March 2016.

Two if By Sea by Jacqueline Mitchard. Publisher: Simon & Schuster March 2016.

The Book Itself: It’s a nice cover. It’s not terrible. It’s not fantastic. It’s really just an image of water and plain writing. Overall, a little meh.

My Review: Just hours after his wife and her entire family perish in the Christmas Eve  tsunami in Brisbane, American expat and former police officer Frank Mercy goes out to join his volunteer rescue unit and pulls a little boy from a submerged car, saving the child’s life with only seconds to spare. In that moment, Frank’s own life is transformed.

Not quite knowing why, Frank sidesteps the law, when, instead of turning Ian over to the Red Cross, he takes the boy home to the Midwestern farm where he grew up. Not long into their journey, Frank begins to believe that Ian has an extraordinary, impossible telepathic gift; but his only wish is to protect the deeply frightened child. As Frank struggles to start over, training horses as his father and grandfather did before him, he meets Claudia, a champion equestrian and someone with whom he can share his life—and his fears for Ian.

Both of them know that it will be impossible to keep Ian’s gift a secret forever. Already, ominous coincidences have put Frank’s police instincts on high alert, as strangers trespass the quiet life at the family farm.

The fight to keep Ian safe from a sinister group who want him back takes readers from the ravaged shores of Brisbane to the middle of America to a quaint English village.

Even as Frank and Claudia dare to hope for new love, it becomes clear that they can never let Ian go, no matter what the cost. A suspenseful novel on a grand scale, Two If by Sea is about the best and worst in people, and the possibility of heroism and even magic in ordinary life.

I fell prey to the magazine-trap with this book. I saw it in a bunch of magazines that listed it as a “Must Read” or “One of the Hottest Books of the Summer” or “Read This or Your Book Club Isn’t Legitimate” (that last one wasn’t a real article title, in case you couldn’t tell).

Two if by Sea is about a grief-stricken man who semi-kidnaps a child endangered in the same tsunami aftermath that killed his wife and her entire family. Because that won’t give you issues. He eventually takes the boy all the way to his childhood farm to live with him and his parents, falsified passport and everything. The thing that piqued my interest about this book is that Ian, the mysterious boy, has some kind of secret/magical ability that Frank and his family feel they must keep secret.

It’s a great premise. But I don’t think it’s told in a very effective or compelling way, and the ending falls rather flat.

First of all, Frank, our kidnapper (he’s not creepy or anything, but come on, that’s what he did), is way too interior throughout the entire book. He’s the third person narrator of our story, and he just thinks way too much. Some of this is to be expected: he suffered an overwhelming trauma and eventually you just have to think your way around how act and function again. But that’s not what he thinks so hard about. Yes, he’s traumatized and full of grief. But beyond that, the narration of the book is spent on unpacking feelings and the mechanics of certain emotions, and not on actions or plot points in the story. At one point, Frank actually says “What is love, really?” and I 1) immediately got “What is Love” by Haddaway stuck in my head, and 2) literally rolled my eyes as he went on for four whole pages on what love can be compared to, and how the love he had for his wife differs from the love he has for Ian or his new lady love, Claudia. It gets old, fast.

Another reason I was intrigued by this book is that it sounded like horses were going to play a big part in the setting, and maybe in the healing process for both Frank and Ian (I went through a big horse phase growing up). Frank takes Ian to his childhood farm, he becomes romantically involved with a woman who show jumps horses, and horses and horse training seem like they are a big part of his life. But so little time is devoted to horses, I’m kind of left wondering about what their actual function in the novel was. Other than a single scene where Frank (briefly) trains Claudia and her horse, the time spent on horses and horse competitions is very cursory. There is a semi-wild filly that helps illustrate Ian’s ability, and the families in the novel do chores around the barn and talk about what horse should do what event, etc. but either I did not understand the role horses truly played in the novel, or it was not made clear enough (maybe both?)

Ian’s ability is…a little confusing. It is never fully explained – there is no doctor specializing in paranormal or superhuman abilities there to explain away his power (and I am glad there is not). We only have the people around Ian’s opinion and observations about what he can do. The extent of what he can do, as well as its limitations are foggy at best. I wasn’t looking for a concrete, easy to explain superhero power – he can become invisible, or he can heal people – but at the end of the story, I still don’t know if I’m sure what Ian can actually do.

You’ve got a boy with a superpower, and a family protecting him, so of course you’ve got a bad guy. Problem is, you never understand who these bad guys truly are, or what their motivation is, even after the book ends. Sure, Frank and his family flee, the action ramps up in the book’s last 40 pages or so, and there is some tense, violent conflict. But I still don’t know who these people are who have been chasing Ian. What are their backstories? What exactly do they intend to do with him? It feels like a lot of build up for not enough return.

Overall, too many components of the plot and characters were not filled out for me, despite Frank’s insistence on thinking through everything for page upon page. I didn’t truly love any of the characters, because I felt like I didn’t really know them. And the conflict that should have brought the whole thing together, as well as Ian’s mysterious ability, did not help my rating. Sorry that I got “What is Love” stuck in your head…

My Grade: C-