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There are times it seems every other novel I read is a coming of age story. I certainly don’t go looking for them so they must somehow find me. I’m glad Red Ruby Heart In A Cold Blue Sea made its way to me though. A debut novel by US writer Morgan Callan Rogers it’s a beautiful book, set in the 1960s, with a mystery at its core and a flawed and feisty heroine roaring from every page.
Florine Gilham is a lobsterman’s daughter whose childhood in a village on the coast of Maine is idyllic. She runs wild with her friends, bakes cookies with her grandmother and hangs out at the beach with her pretty young mother Carlie
Then Carlie disappears without a trace while on holiday with a friend and her family is left to struggle with the grief that fills the gap she’s left behind. Florine’s father loses himself in drinking, while the child lives in hope her mother will be found. “We’ve got to get on with things,” the pair tell each other. But Florine isn’t about to get on with the new woman pushing her way into her father’s life and her rebellion is both spirited and heartbreaking.
There’s a lot of sadness and loss running through this book but it’s tempered by decent honest humour and by the joy of Florine’s friendships. There’s her gruff friend Dottie, her Grand who’s always full of wisdom and Bud the sweet boy who lets her cry on his shoulder. While Florine is at the centre of the story, this is very much an ensemble piece with a cast of wonderful characters. They’re people to be engaged by and come to care about. Their reactions and emotions seem real.
In Germany half a million copies of this book have been sold so far. It’s an easy read – often that’s a term used in a pejorative sense but from me it’s high praise. I think it a huge achievement to write a book for readers to disappear in as thoroughly as I did Red Ruby Heart In A Cold Blue Sea. I felt the emotions, reeled from every setback Florine suffered, cried and laughed through the roller coaster of her adolescence
Author Morgan Callan Rogers is 60 – relatively old to be publishing her first novel – but her maturity and wisdom shines through. She has a great sense of both place and people. And no one who has never suffered loss or made mistakes in her own life could write a character like Florine.
It’s an accomplished debut, poignant and genuine. If you demand neat endings and every mystery solved then this book won’t deliver. To me that’s another of its assets though. Not every last thing in life can be explained, some just have to be got on with. This is the story of how Florine gets on and I loved it.