There are two interweaving storylines in Islander Kate Hancock’s new young adult novel, “Sea Change,” which, since it takes place on the Vineyard, has lots of local flavor. The tale opens with a bang on Chappaquiddick. It’s 1796, and farmer Josiah Cook is out in a wicked storm trying to help his cow Delilah with a difficult birth. Within just a few pages, he’s witnessing pirates burying booty, with a harrowing aftermath from which the young pirate Gilbert survives.
Gilbert enters Josiah and his family’s lives even while trying to keep his origins a secret. Through his story over the years, we become attached to each member of the family, particularly Abigail, Josiah’s daughter, as she comes of age.
Early on in the contemporary story, which begins in 2005, we meet two lovely teenage twins, Samantha and Andy, who are about to start high school. While “Sea Change” is a sequel to “Windswept,” we quickly learn their backstory. They, along with their loving mother Rachel, moved to the Island after their father died in the North Tower during the 9/11 attacks. We quickly recognize the family’s resilience, and how they embody their dad’s unfailing belief to “always have a positive attitude.” During their children’s speech at a Ground Zero memorial service, Andy says: “His last message on our answering machine on 9/11 got cut off, but we’re pretty sure that was the last thing he would have said. It was clear he knew he wasn’t going to make it home for his date with our mom to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary that day. But those four words, ‘Have a positive attitude,’ got us through many difficult moments.”
Sam took the lead again. “They gave us courage when we were afraid, they filled us with hope when we despaired, they reminded us that love is the most powerful weapon we have to fix the broken world we live in. That is his legacy.”
The kids are clearly warmhearted and embrace others, for instance brokering a friendship between Hadia, whose father was killed by the Taliban, and Connor, who originally bullied her because his father was killed fighting in Afghanistan. And Sam befriends a fellow student, a Polish orphan, helping him come out of his shell.
We also learn that the twins had a diary of Josiah’s daughter, which they donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. In “Windswept,” they learned about the treasure, but their attempts to find it failed. They pick up the hunt again in “Sea Change.” The investigation into the past links the two stories. Hancock incorporates real people in both time frames. For instance, the likes of Dr. Fisher from the earlier era and today’s museum research librarian, Bow Van Riper; Vineyard author and historian Thomas Dresser appears as a wise school bus driver — a job he actually had; and there is Craig Dripps, a math teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
“Sea Change” came about because when readers of the first novel asked what happened to the pirate and the kids, Hancock realized, “I wanted to find out myself. I needed to write their stories to discover what happened to them. I don’t have a story planned out before I begin writing. I don’t know what the real story is until my characters tell me as I write.” What she discovered was that Gilbert and the twins were searching for the same things. And she adds, “The most important takeaway is that age should not be a factor in trying to make a difference in the world.”
A lot happens in the two plots, and to say more would spoil the fun. But as they unfold, and the young people come of age in both time frames, what come out clearly through the book are the themes of family, friendship, and most important, having a generous heart — making for inspiring characters and a heartwarming story.
“Sea Change,” by Kate Hancock. Available at Bunch of Grapes, online, and at Edgartown Books.