The Sand Castle

The Sand Castle

4.1 15
by Rita Mae Brown

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In The Sand Castle, beloved American novelist Rita Mae Brown (Rubyfruit Jungle) revisits some of her most spirited and unforgettable characters—sisters Juts and Wheezie Hunsenmeir, and Juts’s precocious young daughter, Nickel—as they come together to cope with a life-defining loss.
It’s August, 1952, and seven-year-old Nickel


In The Sand Castle, beloved American novelist Rita Mae Brown (Rubyfruit Jungle) revisits some of her most spirited and unforgettable characters—sisters Juts and Wheezie Hunsenmeir, and Juts’s precocious young daughter, Nickel—as they come together to cope with a life-defining loss.
It’s August, 1952, and seven-year-old Nickel sets off for a day at the seashore with her mother, aunt, and cousin Leroy. Everyone’s excited when they reach Chesapeake Bay—everyone except for Leroy, who is recently motherless and frightened of the world around him. Nickel delights in tormenting her cousin, but, as the group lounges on the beach and begins work on a magnificent sand castle, the sisters try to coax him out of his shell. As the sun swings higher in the sky, Nickel’s taunting of Leroy escalates and the weight of family history between her mother and aunt rises to the surface—until Leroy is bitten by a crab and all of their arguments fall away. It isn’t until years later that Nickel can see that single day at the beach for what it truly was—a life-changing lesson on family and all the pleasure and heartbreak that comes with it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Aside from the overpackaging (the inch-thick plastic clamshell case holds just two CDs), everything about this lean presentation fits nicely together. Marguerite Gavin's crisp, clean delivery moves the story along at a clipped pace; her voice is as clear and bright as the sunny day on Chesapeake Bay it describes. Creating a distinct aural character for each of the five family members in this story through accent and delivery seems effortless for Gavin. Particularly well done is her treatment of the seven-year-old Nickel, the main character of the story, and the older, reminiscing Nickel who narrates the tale. To the listener, she is obviously the same character, though her age and role in the presentation varies. A Grove hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 3). (Aug.)

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Library Journal

This short novel brings back the infamous Hunsenmeir sisters previously introduced to readers in Six of One(1978), Bingo(1988), and Loose Lips(1999). The plot focuses on a 1952 day's outing to the seashore with the sisters Wheezie and Juts; Juts's seven-year-old daughter, Nickel (who narrates); and Leroy, her eight-year-old cousin. As the day wears on, the sisters bicker, as do Nickel and Leroy, and the story culminates in an incident meant to illustrate the importance of family. Though affectionately told, the story is a little too thin to stand as a novella; at 103 pages, it's also too long for a short story and too short for a novel. It almost seems as though this might have been cut from a larger work. Brown has been revisiting the Hunsenmeirs about every ten years or so and may have thought it was time to put the sisters back in the limelight. Fans of the story line will likely be interested, but other readers may find the work lacking. Recommended for large public libraries only. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/15/08.]
—Caroline Mann

Kirkus Reviews
Brown follows the durable Hunsenmeir sisters (Loose Lips, 1999, etc.) to the seashore, where the younger generation carries on the aimless, benign, revelatory quarreling of their midlife elders. Louise (Wheezie) is the Catholic one. Julia (Juts), the Lutheran, is still free-spirited enough to get under her more authoritarian sister's skin. And that skin has been especially tender since Wheezie's daughter Ginny died of cancer in 1947, leaving Wheezie and her husband Pearlie, the painting contractor, to help their son-in-law Ken, a hero of Okinawa still weeping for his late wife, raise their grandson Leroy. Five years later, when the boy is eight, the two sisters pack him and Juts's adopted daughter Nickel, seven, into a car and take them down to St. Mary's, Md., where the family's ancestors landed in America, as Wheezie constantly reminds everyone, in 1634. The two sisters reminisce about the misadventures fat Aunt Doney had the day her bathing suit uncontrollably shrank and bat putdowns back and forth like veteran tennis players just looking to keep the ball in play. Nickel, who tells the story, observes every nuance of these volleys, sometimes adding her own precocious judgments: "It was good to see Aunt Louise laugh." In between times, she needles her cousin with barbs about his private parts, his fear of crabs and his limitations as a hard worker, and trades insulting epithets only slightly less veiled than those of her mother and aunt. Despite constant disagreements among most of the four characters, the prevailing tone is tranquil, as if a storm had recently blown itself out. Not much happens-there's just enough incident for a substantial short story-but Brown has a great ear for theway children argue, and a keen eye for the way their childish arguments shade off into the defining conflicts of a lifetime. Agent: Wendy Weil/Wendy Weil Agency
From the Publisher
"[A] sad, funny, always moving snapshot of a sort of love letter in the sand." —Booklist Starred Review

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Read an Excerpt

The Sand Castle

By Rita Mae Brown Grove Press
Copyright © 2008
American Artists, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1870-7

Chapter One A white-hinged sign with a big red crab painted on it loomed out of the thinning fog.

"Jesus." Mother swerved to the right.

Her sister, Louise, replied sharply, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain."

"I didn't, you twit, I took his son's."

"The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Same."

"This is supposed to be a trip to the Bay. If I want religious instruction I'll go to church."

"Well, that's just it, isn't it?" Louise was smug. "You're a Lutheran, which is God's punishment. Otherwise you'd worship at the One True Church."

Mother, sidestepping the bait for a fight dangled by her older sister-just how much older also a ripe subject for contention-shrugged. "God will forgive me, that's His trade."

Louise, pretty in what she deemed her midforties, crossed her arms over her chest. She was closer to fifty-two or fifty-three.

Awakened by the swerve, I piped up, "How long till we get there?"

"Not long." Mother avoided being specific.

"Forty-five minutes. If this fog would lift we'd get there faster." Louise feared driving in fog, which was sensible.

Mother feared nothing. At least that's what I thought at seven. Although Mother drove, we rumbled along in Aunt Wheezie's new black Nash with the dull gray interior. I hated the car but keptthat opinion to myself. Why would anyone want to drive a car that looked like a cockroach? Even at seven I was a gearhead, which delighted my father and amused my mother. Leroy, still asleep next to me, evidenced no interest in motors even though he was a boy. He'd turned eight in June. I wouldn't reach that advanced age until November, so those extra months pleased him even if cars did not.

"I love the Chesapeake Bay." Mother smiled as the first sliver of pink appeared on the horizon, the fog thinning in places. "Wheeze, remember when Aunt Doney and Uncle Jim took us down here for the Fourth of July? I must have been Nickel's age."

Louise smiled broadly, "Aunt Doney wore so much linen and gauze she looked like an Arab."

"She was so fair," Mother remarked.

"I'll never forget when you and I got tan and she had a hissy. Said we looked like field hands."

"Better field hands than cadavers." Mother felt like someone had told her what to do and how to do it every step of her life and Aunt Doney was no exception.

"She had a point, I guess, but we were in our teens then and Coco Chanel started the fad for white clothes in summer, and a tan. Oh, remember that French boater striped top I wore? Blue and white. I just thought that was the most beautiful thing."

"It was."

"And that's why I never let you borrow it. You'd have torn it or spilled something on it. Juts, you're so rough sometimes. Just watching you dance is exhausting."

"Mother, when were you and Aunt Wheezie here with Aunt Doney and Uncle Jim?"

"I think the first time was 1912. Took forever to get here. There used to be a spur line so you could take the train to St. Mary's. We stayed a whole week."

Aunt Louise, to remind me of what I already knew-because I really liked history-said, "A few rich people owned cars as toys. You took a trolley, a train, or a horse-drawn buggy. Didn't Mrs. Chalfonte get the first car in Runnymede?"

"No, her brother did. The brother was killed in the war," Mother replied.

"Same war as PopPop?" I asked.

"Same war," Aunt Louise affirmed. "I pray to God there will never be another one. It was the war to end all wars."

"We know better." Mother slowed for an S curve. A truck with wooden panels on the sides to hold in its load of hay was lurching toward us from the opposite direction.

"World War Two is still World War One." Aunt Louise stared out the window, the lifting fog now bright pink.


"Didn't settle the issues the first time." Aunt Louise, not a keen student of history, paid attention to current affairs and for her these had been current.

"War will always be with us. People like to kill each other," Mother stated flatly.

"If the peoples of the world accept Christ, war would end forever."

"Aunt Wheezie, how can they accept Christ if they have their own God?"

"They're wrong." This was said with finality and conviction.

"Oh." I didn't press it mostly because religion fascinated me much less than horses, cars, and history.

"Let's go back to that place for lunch," Mother suggested.

"It's forty-five minutes from St. Mary's." Aunt Louise named the county at the southern tip of southern Maryland. The little town there was called St. Mary's City.

"You're right. Okay, Nick, you keep your eyes peeled for another sign like that and we'll stop for lunch on the way home. We can't stay here all day, which is why we started so early. Anyway, I love to see the Bay when the sun comes up and the birds are flying around and talking to one another. And you know it's August and the coots will be flying in for a rest."

Coots were a type of duck that migrated. In wintertime other types of ducks stayed on the Bay, over a million of them.

"Juts, birds don't talk to one another." Louise shook her head at her fanciful younger sister.

"They do. We don't understand it, that's all." She breathed in, quickly changing the subject because Louise could be contrary and she was edging on it today. "Think Aunt Doney could make the trip?"

"To St. Mary's County?"

"Well, yes. We could fix up the back seat and she could sleep. There are folding wheelchairs."

"No matter. They won't push in the sand."

Mother sighed. "You're right."

These words, more than any other, guaranteed happiness for Louise.

"How old is Aunt Doney?" I asked.

"Ninety-eight," Louise replied.

"Oh." I couldn't fathom this but I did know that the maternal side of our family routinely lived a long time. We had Bibles going back to 1620 and written in various beautiful hands were the birthdays and death days of our forebearers. A lot of the men died in wars but those women who survived childhood seemed semi-immortal. As it was, Aunt Doney's brother was still alive and he'd fought in the War Between the States, being not much older than myself at the time. He was in a wheelchair, too. It made me wonder if you could live too long.

Mother checked the rearview mirror. "That boy can sleep through a thunderstorm."

"He sleeps a lot since Ginny died." Louise's voice lowered.

Ginny, her daughter, had died in February 1952, six months back, at age thirty-three. Leroy cried a lot. Everyone did, including Leroy's father, a marine with the Sixth Division, who had been a war hero at Okinawa. That shocked me, and scared me, too.

"Children are made of rubber. He'll bounce back." Mother kept a positive outlook.

"I don't know, Juts. I hope so. It takes a lot of living to understand death. He's eight. Imagine if we'd lost Momma at eight."

"We would have had each other." Mother stopped herself from making light of it. "But I expect we would have cried ourselves to sleep for a long, long time."

"And the poor little guy has to live up to Ken. How can he do that? How do you live up to a father who won the Distinguished Service Medal for conspicuous bravery?"

"Sis, Leroy isn't the first one of our family to have a hero father. One of us has been in every war or uprising since the Jamestown Massacre. If they managed, so can he."

The Jamestown Massacre occurred in 1622, on Good Friday, along the James River in Virginia.

"That's Chessy's family not ours. Never forget, Julia," she used Mother's full name, "We're Marylanders."

"Still. There's always been someone in a war somewhere. There will always be war." She cut off Louise's protest. "You know yourself that Americans don't all follow the word so why would you think someone in the Ukraine will? It's just the way it is."

"Makes me sick." Louise meant it.

"I guess it would make me sick if I had to see it and smell it." Mother glanced to the left, the east. We were nearing the point of St. Mary's County and the sun was breaking over where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Potomac River at Point Lookout. Virginia reposed to the west and the other chunk of Maryland to the east. Islands had broken off eastern Maryland and sat in the Bay like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

"You tickle me." Louise smiled.


"You'd clap your hands when the sun came up when you were little. Momma would laugh and you'd clap more." She sighed.

"What's better than a new day?" Mother beamed.

Their mother, Cora, died in 1947. I was almost three. I remembered everyone crying. That was my first brush with someone leaving Earth. Next came one of my cousins when he was five, and then Ginny. It worried me. If they were going to a better place then why was everyone crying?

Louise rolled down the window and the still-cool air rushed in, "I know the sun's coming up in the east but I don't know what's coming with it."

"Good times." Mother beamed.

"I don't know."

"Sis, good times." Mother smiled.

When Ginny took sick both Mother and Aunt Louise nursed her. Mother bore the full brunt of her sister's grief and she grieved, too, for Ginny was an exceptionally lovable person.

A long silence followed, then Louise drew in her breath, finally exhaling in one long stream. "I'm starting to feel old."

"Don't be silly. You're not a day over fifty-two."

"Forty-six," came the swift, icy reply.


"You'll always be my baby sister but don't make me older than I am." She shifted in her seat, rolling up the window because the air was brisk even though it was August. "Middle age is tricky. Some days I feel like I'm sixteen and other days, well...." Her voice trailed off.

"I wouldn't know," came the saucy reply.

"Ha right back at you." Louise smiled broadly.

"You're only as old as you feel. Perk up."

"I try, Baby Sis, but sometimes things wash over me."

A silence followed. "Guess it does." Another moment passed and Mother added, "We have to fight back. In a way we have to live harder for Ginny. If you tart yourself up you'll feel better and younger. Really."

"Maybe, but I don't care if I bury my face in Pond's cold cream, the wrinkles are arriving."

"You look great."

Mother wasn't lying. Beautiful skin that aged slowly was a family trait. If anything, the men's skin glowed even fresher than the women's. Mother said shaving kept their skin smooth.

"You two look like twins." I added my two cents.

Mother, while grateful that I was mollifying her sister, shot me a fleeting glance. She liked being the baby and didn't want to look like Louise's twin.

"Aren't you sweet," Louise cooed.

The fog raised up enough so we could see the landscape, flat as a pancake. The point of St. Mary's County lay right in front of us, what passed for a parking lot was crushed seashells. Beyond that the sands shifted with the winds, which fortunately were light.

Mother pulled onto the shells, tires crunching them, as the sun cleared the horizon. "Rise and shine."

I shook Leroy. "Wake up."

He opened his eyes, then sat up. "Look at all those birds. Aunt Wheezie, I have to go to the bathroom."

As Mother cut the motor, Louise opened the heavy car door, then opened the back door, and Leroy stepped out, his PF Flyers bright white because he'd scrubbed them with an S.O.S. pad. Leroy kept things organized and clean since his daddy insisted his son do chores in proper military fashion. I had to be organized, too.

"Honey, there's no one here so you go on over there." She pointed to the edge of the shells. "Don't forget to shake."

Beet red, he mumbled, "Yes, Ma'am."

"I'm gonna look," I taunted.

Mother put her hand on my shoulder. "Nickel, don't be ugly."

"Mother, I've seen earthworms bigger than that."

"When did you see Leroy's part?" Aunt Louise's eyebrows shot up almost to her widow's peak.

"All the time. He always has to go to the bathroom." I shrugged because it didn't seem like a big deal to me.

Mother considered this, then patiently counseled, "Don't make fun of him. Boys, uh," she thought some more, "boys are very nervous about their part even if they brag about it."

Louise concurred. "They're very sensitive. I certainly hope he hasn't examined you." She enunciated "examined."

"Aunt Wheezie, he doesn't care about me at all. I don't want to see him but like I said, he's always going to the bathroom. I don't know why. I don't have to go to the bathroom that often."

They ignored my prattle as Mother opened the trunk of the car.

"I'll carry the hamper if you carry the big cooler." Louise reached for the cooler, the same one Dad used when he went pheasant hunting.

Mother without complaint lifted out the drinks cooler with a grunt. She knew Louise's back often hurt.

"Mother, Leroy says his part hurts sometimes. Why is that?"

"Fills with blood."

This sounded awful. "Should he go to the doctor?"

Both sisters laughed, then Louise said, "No."

"I don't see blood."

"Nickel, this is a discussion for another day," Mother suggested, which meant to shut up.

I couldn't argue, though I did say, "Well, I'm glad I don't have that problem."

"I am, too." Mother walked across the sand, her arms extended because the cooler was heavily loaded with drinks.

Louise followed with the hamper. "You wait for Leroy and then bring the blankets and my bag of tools. We're going to pick the perfect spot."

I leaned against the side of the car, the side away from Leroy, and when he whistled and returned, I lifted out a blanket and handed it to him. I took another blanket and picked up the plumber's bag, then closed the trunk. Inside the canvas plumber's bag were trowels, small buckets, a tin measuring cup, a T-square, popsicle sticks, pieces of colored paper, twine, scissors, a whittling knife, and a bottle of nail polish. He followed me toward where Mother and Aunt Louise stood, right hands shading their eyes.

Mother turned and motioned for us to hurry.

Once there, Louise pointed to the water, "Look at that."

A school of small fish were jumping out of the water, the sun turning their silver bodies red.

"Wow," Leroy held the blanket to his chest.

"Gotta be a shark or something pushing them." Mother studied nature and could identify birds and birdsongs, animals, trees, wildflowers. She taught me these things, including the different cries for mating, defending territory, and the "just plain happy" cry as she called it.

Leroy hugged the blanket tighter, "I'm not going in the water."

"Not now anyway. Sunrise is breakfast time for everyone and your little toes would look so tasty." Mother teased him.

"I'll keep my sneakers on," he replied solemnly.

Louise laughed, bending down to kiss his cheek. "Don't do that. By the time the water warms up you'll be safe."

He nodded but clearly did not believe this.

"Who's hungry?" Mother took Leroy's blanket and spread it out.

Louise spread out my blanket and within minutes ham biscuits, cheese, little apple tarts, and deviled eggs graced the center of the blankets.


Excerpted from The Sand Castle by Rita Mae Brown
Copyright © 2008 by American Artists, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"[A] sad, funny, always moving snapshot of a sort of love letter in the sand." —-Booklist Starred Review

Meet the Author

Rita Mae Brown was born in 1944 in Hanover, PA. She holds degrees in classics, English, cinematography, and political science, and is an avid horse rider and foxhunter. A bestselling author for over thirty years, her novels include RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE, SIX OF ONE, SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT, and two mystery series. She lives and works in Charlottesville, VA.

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The Sand Castle 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haven't read the story yet, but I feel cheated as the story is only 43 pages long but still cost me $8.00 and that was on sale!
Deniseog More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a short story about Juts and Wheezie then this is the book. The story was interesting but wasn't as good as six of one, bingo, or loose lips. This book killed all the characters except Nickel. This read as the last book of the series. I wished there was more to the series but as always Juts and Wheezie will keep you entertained.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never mind i like small clans not huge clans plus i just git a kingdom im in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May i join she asked i would like to be a med cat ir deputy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He pads around camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Flarekit( &male ), Vanillakit( &male ), Icekit( &female ), and Emberkit( &female ) need their apprentice ceremonies. They are all 6 moons ~ Sunstrike
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am fairly new to this clan. I ran away from Northclan when i was an apprentace, in search for Thistlekit( now Thistlepath). Finally i gave up hope and thought he had died so i went back to Northclan. I was then made a warrior. All my kithood friends were either missing or gone so i came here. Sandclan has served me well so far, and i will give you my respect and support, deputy or not. I hope you consider me as a possible choice for the rank of deputy. Thank you for your time!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First of all- I have been in this Clan since a kit. Northvlanwas my birth clan but I ran away because SandClan was just... the right clan for me. I would be a good deputy because I have had expirience with deputyship in my other rps. Also because I respect EVERYONE, even to the smallest kit and I consider every idea, even if its almost impossible. I isually have good grammar and punctuation but tod im in a hurry so its sloppy. I a usually active, but i wont be on for three days, so dont think im lying. Please consider. It is your choice. And if you do pick me, i dont think ill be on at the ceremony (wont be on for three days) so dont chose another deputy if im not there. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi im a male black taby with a a eed ad orange eye the red eye is my left eye i also have scare down my left eye my right eye is orange i am serious but can joke and if niceish but can get mean or stern is i have to i have no mate i was one a lab experiment but i got out i dont like to talk a bout it well thas all plz let me join i am trust worthy Ps.please stop moving
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
&square CinderBranch shifted, yawning. "Sorry I've been gone." &square