Lightkeeper's Daughter

Lightkeeper's Daughter

4.2 4
by Iain Lawrence

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Three years have passed since Squid McCrae last saw her parents and the remote island where she grew up. She returns now at seventeen, a young woman with a daughter in tow. The visit, she knows, will be rough. Lizzie Island–paradise to some, a stifling prison to others–brings an onslaught of memories. It is the place of Squid’s idyllic childhood,


Three years have passed since Squid McCrae last saw her parents and the remote island where she grew up. She returns now at seventeen, a young woman with a daughter in tow. The visit, she knows, will be rough. Lizzie Island–paradise to some, a stifling prison to others–brings an onslaught of memories. It is the place of Squid’s idyllic childhood, where she and her brother, Alastair, blossomed into precocious adolescents. But Lizzie Island is also the place where Alastair died.

Now the past collides with the present as Squid’s homecoming unleashes bittersweet recollections, revelations, and accusations. But nothing is what it appears to be. No one possesses the complete truth, and no one is without blame.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Lawrence writes with great power, unlocking the family mysteries with a mounting sense of suspense and a deft use of symbolism. — Jan Benzel
Publishers Weekly
Lawrence (the High Seas Trilogy) returns to the ocean for this exquisite novel that conjures literally the nature and mood of an island haunted by tragedy. When 17-year-old Elizabeth McCrae better known as Squid returns to her childhood home on Lizzie Island, a remote spot off the coast of British Columbia where her father serves as lightkeeper, she has a three-year-old daughter and a host of memories in tow. Chief among them are images of her brother, Alastair, who drowned when his kayak overturned. The events surrounding his death gradually and inexorably come to light, sifted through his journal entries (which Squid uncovers), scraps of remembered conversations and a compelling third-person narrative that alternates between Squid and her parents. Lawrence charts the course of the human heart, with cascading emotions of remorse and fury, love and passion, hope and nostalgia. Sea creatures take on metaphoric symbolism (a raven is "the Undertaker"; a beached whale prompts a conversation and some closure on Alistair's death). The author blends tangible descriptions ("There was no wind and no swell, and the water lapped at the shore as soft as cat tongues") and an elegiac tone (Hannah hesitates to use a pair of old U-boat binoculars: "It would be wrong to watch for her daughter through lenses that have witnessed the drowning of men") as he unspools an unforgettable tale. Rather ambiguous references to Tatiana's paternity mark this for mature readers. With adult characters every bit as memorable as the teen characters, plus its stunning ability to create a sense of the island's rhythms and habitat, Lawrence's novel not only lives up to the high standards of his previous works, but may well attract a wide adult readership. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
Canadian author Lawrence chooses an irresistible milieu—an isolated island lighthouse—then peoples it with a family so dysfunctional that the end result reads more like a current adult literary morality tale than an offering for young people. Seventeen-year-old Squid returns to her island home with her fey three-year-old daughter in the opening scene, setting off immediate alarms in the reader. Modest mathematics proves that something is awry. It is. But is little Tat the lovechild of an incestuous relationship with Squid's equally fey dead brother? Or is a stray kayaker to blame? Try as he might to prove the latter, all the beached whales and nature fests that symbolically follow can't justify Lawrence's conclusion in either his or the reader's eye. The end result is a nicely written but unsatisfactory story of doom and gloom in the Pacific Northwest. 2002, Delacorte,
— Kathleen Karr
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2002: Lawrence is known for his swashbuckling novels for YAs set in the time of pirates, smugglers, ships with tall sails, and so forth. The only familiar theme in this latest novel, set in modern times, is the sea. The story takes place on an island off the Northwest Coast, where a troubled family resides, tending the lighthouse. I would say it has many elements of the Gothic novel genre, complete with angst, hidden secrets, incest, madness, and seclusion. It certainly is not going to appeal to the same audience that has read The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and The Buccaneers. The story begins as a 17-year-old daughter, with her three-year-old child, returns to the island where her parents tend the lighthouse. Squid, the daughter, had left the island when she was pregnant, after the suicide of her brilliant brother Alastair. Alastair is 14 when he dies in despair because he loves his sister, and because he yearns to leave the island. He is a serious student of whales, especially their communication. The reader may wonder why the father is so intent on keeping him there in isolation. The story is hinted at, revealed in small pieces, told from various points of view. This is not a tale for younger YAs, for a variety of reasons. The strongest element is Lawrence's descriptions of the sea, the island, the whales, but it is a strange story, not with wide appeal. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2002, Random House, 246p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-The lightkeeper's daughter is 17-year-old Squid McCrae (nee Elizabeth), who returns to her parents' home on Lizzie Island with her three-year-old, Tatiana, in tow. The young woman has been gone since the birth of her daughter and her homecoming raises all kinds of recriminations and memories. Squid and her older brother, Alistair, had idyllic childhoods. At age 12, Alistair moved into an empty second house on the island, followed a year later by Squid. As the siblings reached adolescence, Alistair began to perceive his differences from the rest of the family. He became obsessed with studying whales and believed that he could understand their language. Shortly after Squid's encounter with a visiting kayaker resulted in her pregnancy, Alistair set off on one of his nature excursions and did not return. Now, years later, the young woman and her parents are haunted by memories of the brilliant, troubled, and ultimately lost teen and Squid finds it almost unbearable to be on the island until she discovers his diaries and comes to a separate peace concerning her brother's death. The paradise in which the McCraes chose to live and raise their children has not saved any of them from grief and despair. This eerie and emotional story of the reconciliation and redemption of one small family on one small island seems almost too large, too compelling to be held in the pages of one book. It is not an easy or comfortable read but for sophisticated teens, this lyrical novel is an experience not to be forgotten.-Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library District, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"There was blood and pain, an anguished scream, and the wind howled and shook at the walls . . . 'And now,' said Murray, with great earnestness, 'it's clear sailing from here.' " But after Elizabeth's birth, it wasn't easy for the family of four living their insular lives on Lizzie Island on the north coast of British Columbia. Fourteen-year-old Alastair drowns, his younger sister leaves the island and returns with a child three years later to the "brooding, shrunken world" her parents exist in. It's a beautiful world full of the majesty of nature that Murray delights in explaining to his wife and children. But how did Alastair come to drown? Who is to blame? And why the guilt? The story is told in alternating points of view with flashbacks and diary entries woven so seamlessly into the narratives that the past is clearly always part of the present, a past with a mysterious grip on the present relationships of parents, daughter, and granddaughter. Not so much a plot as an accumulation of memories, the story unfolds layer by layer. The island that is paradise for Murray is a prison for his son, and Murray realizes too late that "It's Eden, right enough: full of beauty and knowledge, a fine place to start from. But I suppose there's always a time for leaving." A beautifully written story of light and dark, of magic, ghosts, tempests and shipwrecks, and of sadness and letting go. A must-read for lovers of tales rich in setting, atmosphere, and human understanding. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the bow of the ship, high above the sea, stands a girl of seventeen. She looks like a figurehead carved from wood, her arms never moving, her hair chiseled in place and painted with gold.

The ship carries her north at the speed of the wind, as though forever in a calm. The flags at the mast are twists of limp cloth, the smoke a gray column rising straight from the funnel. It's the sea, not the ship, that appears to be moving. It bursts on the bow and roars down the sides in tumbling foam. It carries rafts of torn kelp and logs that tilt through the waves. Seagulls and auklets skitter away, but the girl stares only ahead.

At her side is her daughter, dressed all in red. Too small to see over the rail, she crouches instead on the deck, peering through the oval of the hawsehole. Her tiny hands are cupped on the metal, and she stares out between them, the way a cat watches from a windowsill. Wedged between her knees is a red plastic purse, its flap buttoned across a Barbie doll too long to fit inside. A frizzy head juts out from one end, a pair of pink feet from the other.

The sea marches past, bashing at the bow, flinging droplets of spray that skitter like beetles on the water. It surges below the girl standing there, now reaching toward her, now falling away as the ship, meeting a wave, rises to the crest. And far ahead a tiny bright cap appears on the skyline. A single white eye blinks at her over all the miles of water.

In a moment it's gone, lost in the waves as the ship drops from the crest, as the foam at the bow billows toward her. But the girl watches and waits, and again it appears, the little red cap, the blink of the light. It's what she's been watching for ever since the Darby turned at the Kinahan Islands an hour ago. And at last she moves. She raises a hand and covers her mouth.

The island seems to rise from the sea like a surfacing whale. Trees and rocks appear, veiled in a silver of spindrift and mist. A tower forms below the red cap, at first so tiny and white that it makes the girl think of a gravestone. Then buildings emerge, red roofs and white walls. Squares of green lawn. Dark swaths of salal.

Each little piece fills the girl with a particular feeling, with a picture in her mind, or a smell or a sound. She was born on that island; she's the lightkeeper's daughter. Her name is Elizabeth McCrae, but all her life she's been known as Squid.

"Tatiana, look," she says. "That's Lizzie Island there."

The child doesn't answer. She seldom speaks. Her little shoulders are bent, her head thrust forward. She's always been small for her age, but now she looks tiny and fragile, closer to two than to three. Squid settles beside her, on the gray steel of the deck. She holds on to Tatiana as though the child might slide through the hole and into the sea.

Tatiana looks up, her eyes jiggling, all her teeth showing in her peculiar grin.

"You doing okay?" asks Squid.

Tatiana nods.

"We're almost there. You'll meet your grandma and your grandpa. They've got a boat with a glass bottom, and a little tractor that can pull you in a wagon."

Squid wants to tell her everything: about Glory, the little winged horse; about Gomorrah and the wailing wall; about Alastair's flute and the singing of whales. But Tatiana isn't listening. The child has already turned back to the hawsehole, watching the water rush past the boat.

On the island, the wind feels brisk. It drives the waves against the shore and shreds them into spray. It gusts up the rocks and over the sodden lawn, where Murray McCrae, the lightkeeper, stands in his khaki shorts.

"Darby's coming," he says, making it sound as though he doesn't care, as though he hasn't been watching for the ship since dawn first came to Lizzie Island. In his hands he holds the things the sea has cast ashore: strands of kelp and bits of bark and sticks like old men's fingers, warted with barnacle shells.

Six feet behind him, Hannah looks up and turns toward the sun. It's well to the south so late in September, and it glares off the waves, off the rocks wet with spray. She squints, then puts her hands to her face and peers through the tunnel made by her fingers, the shape of a heart on the sea.

The Darby is far in the distance. A plume of brown smoke, a speck of red for the hull. Her daughter's out there, an hour away.

Murray carries his sticks to the edge of the grass and heaves them back where they came from, over the cliff and down to the sea. He claps his hands together, then hitches up his shorts. "Better get hopping," he says. "I've got things to do. Sand to carry."

In a moment he's off on his little tractor, bulging above it like a circus bear. A rickety cart, rusted and squeaking, bounces behind him as he rattles down the boardwalk and into the forest.

Hannah goes the other way, over the trestle and up through the tower, out at the top to the platform that circles it. For nearly a week, a lone humpback whale has been feeding on the shallows off the island, and she looks for it now as she might watch from a porch for a friend passing by. The wind buffets at the long, dark dress of the lightkeeper's wife, at the crimson scarf tied round her hair.

Once this was her favorite place, above the houses and the patch of emerald lawn. Ringed in by the railing, she was never frightened by the height, though she stood so high above the sea that the birds flew below her and the surf flickered white on the distant reefs of Devil Rock. Autumn, once, was her favorite time, a summer's end when the whales and the birds stopped to rest on their southward migrations. But now the island is a prison, and the sea a wall around it. Autumn is the start of winter and the coming of the Undertaker. Even the wind makes her frightened.

She believes now that it has a voice. She has heard it often in the last three years--as a breath in the summer's tall grass, as a whisper through the forest of moss-bearded trees. It has shouted her name in the storms that come from the south, when the gulls are flung through the sky like scraps of paper. She hasn't told Murray any of this, but the voice on the wind is their son's.

Yesterday he was there. When the storm was at its peak and the house rattled and shook, when the Canadian flag tore itself into streamers of red and white, she looked out and saw him in the flash of the light. He was gone in the darkness that followed: there and then gone. Poor Alastair--four years drowned--blown up from the sea in the storm.

Hannah shudders, remembering that, her vision of him. She moves back from the rail and leans on the glass. Though eighty feet above the sea, it's stained with salt, remnants of last night's storm. Hannah rubs at the white splotches with her hand, and then with the scarf, tearing it off to let her hair blow in tangles. Every five seconds, the light flashes in the cupola.

It's a pathetic thing now, that light, a plastic dome on a little stick of a pole. The old lantern is long gone, the one that floated in its mercury bath, going round and around with a brilliance brighter than sunlight.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Iain Lawrence is the author of many acclaimed novels, including Ghost Boy, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, and the High Seas Trilogy: The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and
The Buccaneers.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lightkeeper's Daughter 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is touching. I really enjoyed it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Squid, leaving at 14 and six months pregnant, returns to Lizzie Island at 17 with a young daughter, Tatiana or Tat for short. Memories of her past away brother come back and awaken something inside of her that she has forgotten. She brings tat to the island only for a month. During that month she uncovers a secret her brother had never told her. Murray, Squid¿s dad, and Hannah, Squid¿s mom, doesn¿t want her to go. They keep saying over and over that Lizzie Island is her home. Murray is the keeper of the lighthouse, and when he turns sixty five he has to retire. Part of the reason he wants her to stay is so when he turns sixty five he doesn¿t have to leave his home on Lizzie Island. When raising Squid and Alastair, her brother, Murray would always say work then play. Murray would teach them many things about nature, and once a month the Darby would come and bring supplies weather it was books or jars of jam. Tat is adapting more to the island every day. Squid is wondering if staying would be best for Tat. No matter what, if she stays or if she goes, somebody¿s heart will be broken. The book is a little hard to understand in the beginning, but towards the middle it gets understandable. After you reach the middle part in the book you never get lost. The book isn¿t a part of a series. People who like this book would usually like to read about character conflicts and about emotion. I have seen movies on TV about this kind of situation, and the book is nothing like the ending of the movies If you enjoy reading books by Lurlene McDaniel, you man enjoy reading this book by Iain Lawrence. If this book was in a series I would definitely read the next one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was very good- i love the setting... and i love the author
Guest More than 1 year ago
This haunting and beautifully written story is for a mature YA reader. I think it would be an excellent choice for an adult book group. The sense of place - a small, remote island quite far north of Vancouver - is very well depicted. So is the interesting and unusual lightkeeper's family that inhabit the island and tend to the lighthouse. The story, although nothing like it, reminded me of 'The all of it' by Jeanne Haien in mood and the complexity of the subject matter. This is the first book by this author that I have read (it was a reader's copy). I will definitely seek out more of his books.