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Posted on Thu, Jun 28 2018 9:00 am by Kate Allen


Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was far off the coast of Massachusetts, searching for sharks, when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her dad have done okay, thanks to her best friend, Fred, and a few close friends and neighbors. But July of her twelfth summer brings more than a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a Great White—and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful,” even though no one can tell Lucy quite what it meant.

To survive this new wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished shark research. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely team follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.

“In following the adaptation of sharks to a shifting ecology, The Line Tender speaks to our own human capacity to adapt to loss—and Lucy’s losses are profound. This is a novel that stirs our deepest hope that we can survive profound change, that we can even move into new channels that will support us and nourish us and point us toward what we had never anticipated.  This is a celebration of our ability to survive.” —Gary Schmidt, Newbery and Printz Honoree and National Book Award Finalist

“Lucy’s mother once swam with sharks. Now Lucy’s own healing is profoundly tied to these most feared creatures of the deep. Her journey of recovery, conveyed by Kate Allen in this lovely debut novel, is as captivating as the beauty and wonder of the natural world Lucy discovers over one eventful summer. This richly textured story calls us to our most pressing business on earth: to understand and respect the stunningly complex creatures around us before they disappear forever.” —Margi Preus, Newbery Honoree and Minnesota Book Award Finalist

The Line Tender cover

Illustration by Jin Xingye
Design by Jessica Jenkins and Lindsey Andrews

Kate Allen on How the Loft Helped Her Write and Publish Her Debut Novel

The first time I set foot in the Loft was in 2007. We had recently moved to Minneapolis (via Chicago, Boston, and Brooklyn) and while I was grateful to have my husband’s family nearby, we barely knew anyone else in town. My father-in-law had mentioned the Loft many times because he knew that I loved books and that I had wanted to write one. A couple of months after we settled into the house, there was an open house at Open Book. I put my youngest son in the Baby Bjorn and we walked up that spiral staircase. Near the office, there was a chalkboard listing a few classes that still had availability. “How to Write a Novel” with David Housewright had two spots left. I signed up, as if I were on auto-pilot.

In his class, Housewright, a crime novelist, was honest about how difficult it is to publish a novel. Yet at the same time, he gathered and shared different perspectives on structure, point of view, dialogue, and research. For an assignment in that class, I wrote the first scene of The Line Tender. When Housewright read it, he told me that he was “on my trolley car,” which meant that I should keep going. So I did.

I took two novel workshop classes at the Loft with Mary Gardner. There was great value in receiving feedback from Mary and my peers on both large sections of the book and especially, the complete manuscript. Those classes provided deadlines, which made me accountable for getting the work done. Even if I wrote at the pace of a banana slug. Maybe the most enduring gift from those Loft classes was meeting my writing group in Mary’s class: Supergroup. We’ve met once a month for the past nine years to critique each other’s work. Those writers are among my closest friends.

The Loft helped me write The Line Tender by making me curious about plot, structure, and point of view, and all of the scaffolding behind writing a story. It connected me with a community of writers who have given me roots in the Twin Cities. 

Read an excerpt from The Line Tender:

Chapter 4: Empty House

Dad spent more time underwater than he spent on land. He was a scuba diver, both professionally and recreationally. If he wasn’t hauling people out of the water (dead or alive) with the rest of the Salem Police dive team, he was hunting our lobster dinner off the coastline near our house. It was typical for Dad to receive a call from the dive team outside his regular hours at the police station. Salem Police divers did double duty, working regular shifts as uniformed police officers or detectives, but also responding to emergency situations. It seemed like there had been more calls than usual that summer—people driving off bridges or swimming in dangerous waters. I didn’t like it when he was gone. When he was at the bottom of some harbor, the house felt empty. But he was always moving like a shark, swimming in order to breathe. 

That night, I learned later, some moron had driven his truck into Salem Harbor and that Dad was called to the accident scene to help fish him out. There was a mostly thawed block of chicken on the countertop that Dad might have cooked had he stayed home that evening. I didn’t know the first thing about transforming raw meat into dinner, so I sat at the kitchen table and leaned over a copy of the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Some of the recipes had my mom’s notes in the margin. It was always strange to see her handwriting, to see something that was so distinctly hers and that was still here. 

“Check at twenty-five minutes!” she wrote. 

“Can substitute with olive oil,” in another place. 

She had been gone five years. Most of the time, Dad and I were okay without Mom, even though I still thought about her every day. But my grief for her was like a circle. I always came around to missing her again. It could be a birthday that triggered the new cycle or something more unexpected, like finding something in a drawer that belonged to her. 

I started reading the recipe names in a whisper. “This one sounds simple. ‘Whole Chicken Baked in Salt. Lemon and ginger cooked in the cavity perfumes the bird.’” 

But the recipe called for four pounds of Kosher salt. Four pounds. I wondered how a chicken cooked in four pounds of salt was still edible. When I reached the part where the chicken cooks for two hours in a wok, I closed the book. We didn’t have a wok. Or four pounds of salt. 

I opened the fridge. The combination of old food and nothing made me lonely. I pulled out the garbage can from under the sink and started pitching—lettuce, both rusted and soggy; fourteen-day-old moo shu pork that looked deceptively edible; and peaches with skin like a mummy’s. There was half a Corningware dish of lasagna from last  weekend. I imagined bacterial colonies beginning to creep up, so I used a knife to wiggle it out of the pan and let it flop into the garbage, which had just about reached its limit. 

I wiped the shelves with a wet rag. Now we were left with nothing—a half gallon of milk, a pitcher of Tang, some onions, and a door full of stuff in jars. I poured a glass of the orange drink, grabbed a short stack of stale saltines from the pantry, and walked into the den. I gotta learn how to cook. 

Through the open window I could hear the leaves rustling in frequent swirls of wind and Mr. Patterson listening to dueling radios on his porch—the Red Sox on WEEI and a police scanner. It was an odd and familiar sound—Joe Castiglione’s voice and the crack of the bat, layered with occasional farty blips and cryptic messages between cops and dispatchers. I didn’t hear anything from the dive team. 

Eventually I walked over to the TV and flipped it on, taking a leisurely stroll through the channels on my way to the Sox game. And there was Sookie on Channel 7, wearing his mirrored sunglasses and speaking into the reporter’s microphone. I never saw people I knew on TV. I picked up the phone. 

“Turn on Channel Seven. Sookie’s on TV.” 

“Okay,” Fred said. 

I could see the wharf and the harbor behind Sookie. 

“Holy crap, it’s T Wharf.”

“I’m getting there, I’m getting there,” he said. 

The camera panned to show the shark’s body in the near distance, hanging awkwardly from the winch. The shark would have looked powerful swimming in the ocean, but it seemed freakish hanging in a loop on the dock, bunched up in some places and stretched out in others. The reporter asked Sookie if he had ever seen a great white in all of his years of fishing off the Massachusetts coast, and Sookie said, “Nope. Only in the movies.” 

“There we are!” Fred yelled. “Over by the garbage cans.” 

I didn’t like seeing myself on TV. I looked way too tall, especially standing next to Fred. The reporter looked into the camera and launched into a brief history of great white sharks in the North Atlantic. Fred was getting agitated. I could hear him breathing into the receiver. 

“That’s wrong,” he said. “They can swim in subarctic water.” 

Then the news story cut to a section of old footage. 

And there she was. Talking to the camera while sitting on a boat, her hair blowing around, her face with freckles like mine. 

“Lucy. That’s your mom,” Fred said. 

“I know,” I said. Somewhere off camera, a man asked her a question. 

“Am I afraid? Being in the water with sharks?” She grinned. “No. You just have to remember that you are swimming in their home. You have to know how to behave when you are the guest.” 

“Seriously,” Fred said. 

“What would you like people to know about sharks?” asked the man off camera. 

She looked up at the sky for a moment. “I guess that there is so much we don’t know about them—where they go, or how many there are. And we fear what we don’t know. If we knew more about sharks, maybe we would be in a better position to help ensure their survival.” 

The boat kept rocking and my mother smiled at the camera. It was as though she were smiling at me. At me. I looked right into her eyes and it was like we were staring at each other. The fine lines around the outer corners of her eyes deepened as her smile grew. I shuddered. The phone slid from under my chin and hit the floor. 

I didn’t take my eyes off her. 

She sighed and kept looking at me. Then, too abruptly, the clip ended and we were suddenly back on T Wharf with Sookie and the newscaster. It took me a minute to realize that I had been talking to Fred. I wiped my face, bent down, and picked up the receiver. 

“Lucy?” said Fred. 

“Fred, what was that?” I asked, sniffling. 

“It was a clip from an interview with your mom.” 

“No, I know that. But where did it come from?” 

“I don’t know. Ask your dad.” 

“He’s not here.” 

“Are you okay?”

“Not really.” 

“Want me to come over?” he said. 

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll call you back.” 

The circle had begun again. 

Kate Allen grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Minneapolis, MN with her family. The Line Tender is her first novel.