Simon & Schuster: 3/15/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
Two If by Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard is a highly recommended novel about a grieving man, a young boy with a special ability, and horses.
Frank Mercy lost his pregnant wife and her entire family when a Christmas Eve tsunami hit in Brisbane, Australia. He was part of the volunteer search and rescue team, so even while grieving, before he knew if his wife or any of her family had survived, he set out to help rescue others. During his efforts he saves a little boy, age 3, and calls him Ian. Frank believes that Ian has a telepathic gift to make others, animals and people, calm down, relax and "be nice." Ian quickly attached himself to Frank and needs to be by him all the time.
An American expat, Frank decides that he is going to return to his family's horse farm in Wisconsin. He sidesteps the law and takes Ian with him, telling people a tale of how they are vaguely connected and having a lawyer friend acquire proper paperwork. They arrive in the USA, along with a horse named Glory Bee and a former jockey and set in training horses at the family farm.
Frank and Ian are healing and settling into life cautiously when Frank meets Claudia, a psychiatrist and champion equestrian, and they quickly form a close connection as she trains with Frank for the Olympics. Franks family and Claudia have notice that Ian has an unexplained ability. It also becomes clear that someone or a group of people are after Ian. Frank knows that Ian's gift could be used for evil or personal gain by unscrupulous people. He doesn't know who the people are who want Ian, but he clearly knows that they are watch and nearby.
This is a solid 3.5 for me. The story is engaging, and the writing is great. Mitchard does an excellent job developing her characters describing the setting. I did have several niggling complaints about elements of the plot. These might not bother other readers, or you might be able to set them aside, but they were bothering me. Often I can overlook improbabilities and suspend my disbelief, but I just couldn't do that here.
The first is Frank getting the paperwork to take Ian to the USA without using the same lawyer and his ability to handle sketchy paperwork to legally adopt Ian. I don't want to think it would be that easy to take a child out of a civilized country. That he did so bothered me all the way through the novel, even though I realize Frank had good intentions.
The second bothersome point was that Two If by Sea felt like it wanted to be a love story after great tragedy, with lots of horses involved in the plot. But Ian and his gift were added to the plot to create a tension and suspense. It never felt like all the elements gelled for me into a cohesive whole. I was never fully convinced that Ian's "gift" was all that necessary to the story. Plus his age, 3, seems a bit young for this great gift to be so proven that bad guys are after him. Just think about a 2 or 3 year old and let the idea of a psychic ability to make people and animals "be nice" sink in for a moment and you'll likely feel the same way I did.
The story would have made more sense to have Frank rescue Ian, adopt him, try to make a new life in the USA, train champion horses, and become a new family with Claudia. A different story, but the direction that Two If by Sea felt like it wanted to take, except the supernatural psychic bits were added.
I did read the whole novel. It is well written and I wanted to know what happened next, thus the 3.5, or rounded up to 4 because of all the things Mitchard did right.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Simon & Schuster for review purposes.