Ferris Beach

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It is the 1970’s, and a new girl has just moved in across the street from nine-year-old Kate Burns. Kate and Misty develop that once-in-a-lifetime friendship, enduring in spite of boyfriends, family troubles, and ever-diverging interests and school activities.

Kate is an imaginative girl who has read and reread the biography of Helen Keller and blindfolds herself in her room to act the part; her daydreams frequently feature her cousin Angela, a free spirit. Kate pretends that the beautiful Angela was her teenaged unwed mother who gave her up to be adopted by her parents, Fred and Cleva (whom Kate once compares to Jack Sprat and his wife).

Cleva is the dowdy, housewifely sort, not mysterious like Angela or sexy like Misty’s mother, Mo. One lesson Kate will learn, however, is that both Angela and Mo, for all their glamour, can also be self-centered and cruel; Mo dies after having left her family to run away with another man. Cleva and Misty’s mousey stepmother, initially disparaged by and unremarkable to Kate and Misty, will prove to be the true heroines of the novel, eventually gaining their daughters’ respect.

That is the beauty of McCorkle’s storytelling—capturing the wondrousness of childhood and using the life of an ordinary girl to bring to life an entire neighborhood of characters. She does not try to answer every question, yet ends on a positive note, leaving the reader satisfied.