cover image Two If by Sea

Two If by Sea

Jacquelyn Mitchard. Simon & Schuster, $25.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1557-8

Mitchard’s (The Deep End of the Ocean) latest combines elements of science fiction and suspense with a heartfelt meditation on family and grief, to mixed results. When a tsunami devastates the Australian coast, Frank Mercy loses his pregnant wife and her entire extended family in the span of a few moments. Bottling up his grief, he reports for duty as a first responder and pulls a three-year-old boy named Ian from a half-submerged van. Frank feels strangely compelled to take him under his wing, and the pair flee Brisbane for Frank’s family’s horse farm in Wisconsin. It’s soon apparent that Ian is special: he can speak to animals in a way that calms even the most skittish horses, and he can convince people to do whatever he wants (which, since he’s three, generally means buying him sweets and toys). As Frank and Ian’s bond becomes stronger, both begin to heal, but just as they become comfortable, figures from Ian’s past catch up to him, and his mysterious origins become clearer, as does the danger he’s in. Mitchard’s usual strong characters and emotionally resonant prose are evident here, but a few predictable twists and a shoehorned-in love interest drag things down. This won’t grab new readers, and longtime fans may feel frustrated by the change of style and pace. Agent: Jane Gelfman, Gelfman Schneider. (Mar.)