My father grew up in northern Rhode Island and I have long had affection for his home state. I love going back there, love the drive up the coast, the French Canadian history, minor league baseball and, of course, the fabulous seafood. But Rhode Island is not a place that inspires much literature and so it is rare that I read much of anything set there. This is why I was so happy when Swim That Rock by John Rocco an Jay Parmiano came my way.
Jake Cole is looking at the end of summer, the start of high school and losing everything he loves. His father went missing while out fishing three months earlier and he and his mother are barely hanging onto their family diner in the coastal town of Warren. Desperate to make the thousands of dollars necessary to pay off a loan shark who holds the diner's deed, Jake is willing to do practically anything including go out at night to help a local oyster pirate.
Over a couple of weeks as the summer winds down he nearly gets arrested, maimed and killed but also manages to prove himself on the water, work harder than he thought possible, make a lot of money (mostly legal) and kiss the best girl ever. It's a very eventful couple of weeks that force Jake to ask some necessary questions about what it means to be a man and—more importantly—a good man. He also has to accept the loss of his father which is very nearly more than he can bear, but sometimes that is what growing up requires of us; the hard stuff we wish would just go away.
Swim That Rock is one of those incredibly rare books about middle class people for whom work is a key part of their lives. For Jake and his mother and all of their friends, life is about work and filling your life with people you trust. It's also about loving the place where they live and Rocco and Primiano paint such vivid pictures of Rhode Island that readers will likely find themselves falling a bit in love with it as well. Mostly though, they will like Jake's adventures, his strong desire to do the right thing and the good people that make up his world. He's a tough kid in a tough spot that is impossible not to root for; we all hope we could be this brave in his position and dig deep enough to save the day like he does.
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