Title: The Surfer by Linda Cargill
Summary: Surf’s up. You’re dead.
Jessie has never seen the daring beauty on the surfboard before. The one who gets a thrill out of surfing on the stormy seas. And now it seems Jessie will never know her.
The girl disappears beneath the treacherous waves… never to surface again…
So who’s the new girl in town?
The one who casts a spell over everyone she meets. She can’t remember her name. Or where she came from. Jessie thinks she knows… Has the beautiful surfer come back from the death? Or is it something worse… much worse…?
Tagline: Surf’s up. You’re dead.
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
I’ve never read this. I’d never even heard of it until Dove found it. And Dove has been super negative when talking about it, but y’all? I’m excited to read it. I love seaside horror and surfing, that summary is pretty thick with queer girl potential, and that cover makes it look like some sort of clawed monster attacked the board. EXCITING!
[Dove: Once I saw the cover, I knew this was a Wing book. That lady loves her oceans. And her surfing. And from the description, a girl falling for another girl. Actually, to be honest, this sounds like a Dove book too.]
[Wing: Right. I mean, I do love those things, BUT SO DO YOU. Possibly because I infected you with my love for most of it, but still.]
We open with a diary entry, and my excitement immediately fizzles. I am just not a fan of that writing style. Few people can do it in a way that keeps me interested. [Dove: *preens*] [Wing: Dove is preening because she is writing a diary-style book I love.] Fingers crossed Cargill is one of those people, and/or there are very few scenes like this.
Jessie starts out writing about being grounded again, and how her mom nags at her all the time, mostly about how she looks (she needs a haircut, she needs to go on a diet so she can “look like a young lady” and fuck you, Jessie’s Mom. I hope the Muffin Man takes you out).
She’s not grounded because of the nagging, though, it’s because her mom thinks she’s daydreaming too much. That is a weird reason to ground someone. Jessie wishes she had a better relationship with her mom, but knows that her mom has a lot of problems of her own, including the fact that her dad has just moved out, and their divorce is supposed to be final in six months. That sounds like it sucks a lot, Jessie, and I’m feeling pretty sympathetic toward you.
Jessie also wishes she had someone to talk to about what’s happening to her. She can’t tell her mom for obvious reasons, she can’t tell Nick because he has no imagination and doesn’t even remember his dreams, she can’t tell Trish because while Trish would listen she wouldn’t believe, because she’s a cynic.
Every night when Jessie falls asleep, she drowns in her dreams.
What a terrifying reoccurring dream. Between this and her relationship with her mother, I’m surprised Dove doesn’t like this book better. [Dove: I did at this point, I was quite invested early on, but slowly I dropped out.] [Wing: Fair enough. I did the same.]
Jessie heads for the boardwalk, and I am filled with joy. Boardwalks are the best, baby. It’s only May, and there are still a few weeks before tourist season really kicks off. Jessie’s trying to enjoy that time while she can.
There’s a couple paragraphs about the Norwegian Lady, a nine-foot bronze sculpture that watches over all those who go out to sea. It was a gift from Norway to Virginia Beach, commemorating the wreck of the ship called The Norwegian Lady in 1897.
This is totally a mcguffin, but so far, I love the atmosphere Cargill is building here.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 1 (+1) (An attempt is made to casually reference something that is clearly going to be a plot point at a later date. And it fails to be casual.)
Jessie runs into Nick, who is “six feet of lanky bones and muscles” with tousled red hair. They’ve been friends since they were kids, but she thinks he presumes too much because he surprises her by showing up wherever she goes. That is creepy and presumptuous. He’s a senior and Jessie a junior (so 17-18 for him, 16-17 for her), and she thinks he tries to act like her big brother too much.
Ooooh, Jessie is angry because he told her mom where she was the other day when she didn’t go straight home after school and her mother called him looking for her. Couple things here: Jessie is six-fucking-teen at the youngest, give her some damn space, mother. I can’t super fault Nick for telling her mom she was going to the beach, though. Jessie didn’t tell him to keep it a secret, and even if she had, that’s pretty presumptuous of her to assume he’d lie for her.
Apparently, there were some drownings back in April, and the police have asked people to stay away from the old fishing pier. It is Jessie’s favorite place, though, her special spot to be alone where it was quiet enough for her to think.
Y’all, I kind of love Jessie at this point.
In part, Jessie is grumpy because people keep assuming she’ll get in trouble, when she feels like they should trust her because she’s on the swim team, she works as a lifeguard, she knows what she’s doing. And those things can be true, but you can still get in trouble, woman. It’s easy, especially with the ocean, for things to go very wrong very quickly. That’s part of the appeal for some people. (Me.) [Dove: and for me, it’s why I don’t wade too deep. Massive respect to a body of water that respects nobody’s rules but the Moon’s.] [Wing: Werewolves and oceans, my favorite things.]
Jessie thinks everyone is overreacting just because a couple silly boys were killed.
JESSIE IS MY NEW FAVORITE POINT HORROR LEAD CHARACTER. NO, REALLY, LOOK AT THIS SHIT:
Jessie looked out to sea. She saw those annoying red buoys. Everybody had to act like an old grandmother these days just because a couple of silly boys had been killed playing around the old pier after dark. Their heads had been smashed in as if someone bit them with boards or rocks. They could have gotten drunk, beat each other up, and then fallen off the pier to be washed up on the rocks. Jessie was certainly not about to do anything so silly herself.
I LOVE HER.
Jessie likes to climb a big pile of rocks between the pier and what used to be the inlet to the old bay, but now everyone uses Rudee Inlet which is several miles up the beach, closer to the lighthouse. THERE’S A BOARDWALK AND AN OLD PIER AND A LIGHTHOUSE. I want to live here and be snarky at people’s bad choices with Jessie.
Even though she normally keeps her balance, this time, she slips and badly scrapes her knee and bruises her elbow. She actually has a pocket handkerchief to tie around her bleeding knee, and that is such a seaside queer girl thing. I LOVE YOU, JESSIE. I’m sure this immediate adoration for a Point Horror main character will never come bite me in the ass.
As she’s climbing the rickety wooden steps of the old pier, she gets one of her sudden, sharp premonitions: she feels like a cold finger is touching the back of her neck, but when she spins around, there’s no one behind her, of course.
(Also, she says “This is the outside of too much!” which is not a phrase I’ve ever heard before, and seems weirdly off.)
Jessie likes to sit at the end of the pier, because the sea draws her there, and she can see for miles.
She’s lost in her thoughts about how things used to be with her parents when she sees something far out in the water. It looks too large to be a leaping dolphin, but not as big as a ship or a boat — and it is rapidly moving toward shore.
Eventually, Jessie can tell it is a girl in a one-piece red bathing suit on a surfboard. Jessie’s done a little surfing, and doesn’t understand how the girl could have started so far out at sea, where the surf did not break and the big waves did not form. But it is a girl with long blond hair streaming behind her and the most striking, beautiful white skin Jessie’s ever seen. It’s strange that she’s not wearing a wetsuit, but Jessie can’t get over how gorgeous she is.
QUEER SEASIDE HORROR.
I know Point Horror is not actually going to go there, because it was too mainstream to have done so back then. Hell, most publishers won’t go there today, even. But I am going to cling to this sliver of hope as long as I can. [Dove: Me too. I’m right there with you. This is a subtext love story, and the straight boy is just there so the homophobes won’t notice we’re reading a lesbian romance.] [Wing: An incesty lesbian romance, even.]
Jessie is even more overwhelmed by the beauty of the surfer’s moves, and to be fair, she’s doing tricks on one leg, handstands, all sorts of fun contortions while she’s surfing, so power to her, and I don’t blame Jessie for being so entranced.
When the girl notices Jessie, she waves, and Jessie shyly waves back. Oh my god, that is adorable. And Jessie keeps thinking about how the girl has muscles and curves in all the right places. God, Jessie, you adorable baby!queer.
Jessie feels super awkward and average next to such athletic beauty, and again stresses over how her mother keeps telling her she’s putting on weight, and how she can’t explain that the only thing there is to do at night is raid the fridge when she can’t sleep. Two issues here: parents, don’t be shitty to your kids about their weight. And authors, stop with the assumption that fat people are fat ‘cause all the do is eat AMIRITE?
Jessie thinks the surfer is putting on even more of a show now that she knows Jessie is watching. Cargill, if you are queer baiting me, I am going to hunt you down.
When the girl’s “extraordinarily long wave” finally gives out, Jessie politely introduces herself, even though it means shouting at the top of her lungs so the girl can barely hear her. She also compliments her surfing, and the girl asks if she wants to see more. QUEER SEASIDE HORROR.
Jessie rhapsodizes over the play of her muscles as she starts to paddle back to catch a wave, and then a storm blows in, the sky filling with big, puffy blue and black clouds, and then a jagged lightning bolt hits the water far out at sea.
The surfer rides a ten-foot swell in toward the sandbar (Jessie thinks this is gigantic, and maybe for east coast waves it is, but I think of the waves I’ve seen at North Shore and laugh), and Jessie is terrified that the girl won’t be able to make it. At first, it looks like she’ll be able to ride the wave all the way to the beach; she’s close enough now that Jessie can see the necklace of shells that hangs around her throat, a large, round crystal pendant with a blue turquoise center dangling from the end. The blue is the same color as her eyes, and Jessie spends some time thinking about how it looks like she could gaze into the girl’s eyes forever and never reach bottom. QUEER GIRLS QUEER GIRLS QUEER GIRLS. The girl’s lips are pursed, the ends turned up into a mysterious smile, and her face is radiant — Jessie is so fucking obsessed, and I, in turn, am obsessed with her obsession. QUEER SEASIDE SURF GIRLS.
Jessie gets ready to run down to the beach to greet her new girlfriend acquaintance, and just then, the surfer slips off her board and goes under with a terrible cry. Jessie thinks this is impossible, she was nearly to the shore, the water is too shallow. But people drown even in shallow water, and the waves are fierce because of the storm. Jessie waits to see her surface again, like before, but though she thinks she catches a glimpse of the surfboard bobbing in the water without a surfer, a huge wave buries it right after, and there is no trace of the surfer or the surfboard remaining.
Jessie is terrified that she hit her head and will be washed out to see, and dives into the ocean from the pier. Oh, you brave idiot. I love you. She has a hard time seeing in the murky water, and I salute her for being able to open her eyes under water. I’ve never learned that trick, in part because I wear contacts, and can’t see without them at all, so I do wear them when I swim. Goggles are essential.
Something solid and dense, like a drifting human body, bumps up against her, and seems to coil tentacles around her. Okay, I’ll take queer girl seaside tentacle horror, that’s fine, Cargill. When Jessie grabs it, she realizes it is human hair. She hooks her arm under the body’s chin and tries to swim to shore. She can’t actually see the girl to know it is her, but she assumes the surfer is the only body drifting around near the beach.
Though Jessie has swam in choppy waters before, the storm is incredible, and has made the sea pretty much unswimmable. There was nothing on the weather reports she heard earlier, and she doesn’t understand how a storm of that magnitude came out of nowhere. That just doesn’t happen.
Jessie can barely fight the fierce undertow, and the body seems to get heavier and heavier. She clings to it, unwilling to be the reason someone dies (well, specifically she refuses to be the reason the hot surf girl dies), but her fingers are slipping off one by one, and it feels like something is tugging the body in the other direction.
Jessie realizes then that she is being dragged out into the water too. Before she can try even harder to reach shore, if she has any extra strength left, a giant wave smashes over her head, pushing her away from the body and shoving them both down into the dark sea. Jessie gets all turned around, and this is a terrible, realistic description of what it’s like to get caught under the waves, water everywhere, no way to tell up from down, shore from farther out to sea.
She realizes her reoccuring nightmare is coming true, and almost she gives up, but then fights back. She tries to go light and float, but there are too many waves for that to work, and she can’t follow the bubbles floating to the surface because the water is too churning. Finally, she chooses a direction and tries to swim in that direction, clawing her way through the water with the last of her strength — and then someone grabs her and drags her to the surface, which is the opposite direction from where she was swimming.
Nick to the rescue.
Oh, damn, all of that was chapter one. This recap is going to end up longer than the book. I just love Jessie so much, y’all. And her insta!crush on her surf girl.
Jessie tries to tell Nick about the girl in the water, but he’s too focused on trying to swim them back to shore. He’s the best swimmer at their high school, and even he is just barely making progress against the undertow.
When they reach the wet sand, Jessie points out that the storm is passing, and they have to go look for the girl, because she might still be alive out there, and Jessie can’t just leave her on her own if she is.
Nick tells her that he’s been watching her the entire time from the boardwalk (that’s some creepy stalkery bullshit right there, Nick), and he never saw any girl on a surfboard. He thought Jessie was crazy talking to herself, but harmless, until she jumped in and tried to drown herself.
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 (+1) (Something strange and evil is happening. Since I hate all of my BFFs, it’s bound to be one of them.)
I beat you because I love you: 1 (+1) (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
Jessie doesn’t understand how he missed seeing the girl or hearing her speak to Jessie. I’ll give you the first part, Jessie, but you said yourself you were having to shout at the top of your lungs for her to hear you, and you could barely hear her in return. He was even farther away.
Nick points out that if there was a girl out there with a surfboard, the board would have washed up on shore because they float. He has a point, but it also could have been beaten into the sandbar by the waves, broken into pieces, washed away elsewhere, etc.
Jessie decides to ignore him and calls for help from other people. Everyone starts running to help find the missing girl. Once emergency services have been called, Nick literally drags Jessie off the beach and carries her up the stairs, not putting her down even when she pounds his back with her fists. Jesus fucking Christ, Nick, that is so far from okay.
I beat you because I love you: 10 (+9)
Cheer on the killer: 1 (+1) (Because the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.)
I’m counting it for Nick, even though he’s not the protagonist, because I’m worried he will be the love interest, what with all the “protection” he’s doing in the form of manhandling and abuse.
While Nick is dragging her around, Trish and Dot come running toward them from the shops next to the Big Surf Hotel. (Trish: Six feet tall with curly black hair that spills down over her shoulders; she always looks oddly put together, with shoes that don’t match and her jeans are never long enough. The first part is adorable, the second part just happens when you are a giant.) (Dot: Trish’s sixteen-year-old sister, thin little girl with a ponytail who is always afraid of the worst and can’t stop fidgeting.)
(CARGILL. There is NO way Jessie would call a sixteen-year-old a “little girl”. Jessie is only, what, seventeen herself? You are letting your own terms slip in.)
Trish points out that it looks weird for Jessie to be slung over Nick’s shoulder, and Nick finally puts Jessie down.
Before they make it to the parking lot, a policeman stops them, and says he saw them at the beach. Jessie tells him that she saw everything, and she was with the girl when she drowned. The officer doesn’t question this at all, not even to get a description of the girl, or find out where in the water she was when she went down. Greaaaaat work there.
The officer who actually comes to take their statement is a woman, and she is far more thorough. She’s cold and emotionless as she asks all sorts of questions, including whether Jessie and the missing girl had ever fought before.
Nick keeps hovering over Jessie because he thinks it’s supportive. She is angry at him because he dragged her away and wouldn’t help her try to save the girl, and points out that they can always hope for a miracle, and he should know it, because his father’s a surgeon. She also cooperates with the police much better than anyone else, because she is desperate to save the surf girl.
(Emergency vehicles turn up twice in this scene, but it’s not written as if multiple types show up, but instead as if Cargill isn’t keeping what happens when straight in her story.)
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (+1) (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)
There’s a lot of talk about how they rescue teams work, how they’ll dredge the water with the hooks, how Dot is freaking out and Jessie comforts her, how Jessie needs comfort herself, because she let the girl die, and she is a murderer.
Honey, no. That’s not really how being a murderer works. [Dove: Urgh, my second most hated trope. First, obv, is dead sainted parent. But this is almost on par with it. I hate the “I am a murderer” over a failed rescue trope.] [Wing: RIGHT?! I don’t understand why authors go there so often, either. It is just as poignant and dramatic for them to feel guilty over not being able to save someone, without the eye-rolling that calling themselves a murderer brings to the table.]
Also, Nick puts his hand on her shoulder and a special warmth radiates from it. I’m going to vomit. I fucking knew it was going to go this way.
Reporters turn up from KRRX-TV and ask if the girl told Jessie ahead of time that she was going to kill herself. WTF? When the hell did it go from someone out in bad weather when they shouldn’t be to a suicide? And then a fucking suicide pact, because that’s the next question they ask Jessie. [Dove: I think this was a the start of me gently backing away. We have a great first chapter, and then in chapter two it feels like the entire town is trying to gaslight Jessie or something.] [Wing: I could still get behind it here, because it sort of does sound like something the media would do chasing a story, but NICK. FUCKING NICK.]
Jessie asks Nick to get out of there, and he clears a path through the reporters. Before they can leave, though, one of the scuba divers asks Jessie if the seashell necklace with the crystal pendant is hers. Jessie burns into tears, and Nick stares at in in horror.
In the car, Jessie holds up the necklace as proof that the girl was real. UMM. I do not believe they would have actually given it to her, considering there is a missing, unidentified girl, and it is therefore FUCKING EVIDENCE.
Jessie thinks that the necklace is perfect, just like the girl who wore it (QUEER GIRLS): it is a solid gold chain strung with tiny, coral-colored shells, and she can tell when she touches them that they are not cheap imitations, but actually from the sea. The crystal is as fine as a diamond with a diamond’s fire and brilliance, but the best part is the blue-green turquoise embedded in the crystal’s center, somehow without damaging the crystal itself.
Oh, wait, apparently Jessie did not tell the diver that the necklace belonged to the missing girl. Bad choice on her part, but not quite as ridiculous RE evidence as I thought from Cargill. Sorry about that, author. You get a pass.
The girl’s body hadn’t been found. The search was continuing, but hopes were also dying. Everybody wanted to get home and get on with their lives. The excitement was over.
UMMM. Though not for that, damn. That’s some cold shit right there. Did you intend for that kind of impression, Cargill?
We get some more background on Nick’s perfect (at least to Jessie) family: he lives in one of the few remaining beachfront houses on the Strip, close enough he can walk straight onto the beach, has two perfect sisters who look nothing like Nick, and still lives with both parents, his society lady mother and his surgeon father who made a killing in real estate by selling off old family properties inherited from some ancestral sea captain.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 2 (+1)
Jessie plays with the radio, looking for music so she won’t go crazy.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)
Instead she ends up on the news, and the report actually names her, which, considering she’s underage, seems unlikely, as the only witness to the drowning of a missing girl. No one has been able to recover the body, and the reporters say no one knows why the girls were on the beach in an unauthorized area, and the police have not disclosed whether they will charge Jessie with trespassing. They go on to talk about how the beach has been closed since the two boys drowned on April 1, and how all attempts to dismantle the old pier for safety reasons has been blocked by the Virginia Beach Historical Society because it is a national historic landmark due to its proximity to the Norwegian Lady Plaza.
Umm, I’m not sure proximity to an actual historic landmark makes something else also a landmark, but whatever, I’m going to let it go. [Dove: Damn letter-writing campaigns.] [Wing: Bahahaha.]
Jessie is freaked out that her mother will have heard that news report and know that she’s still be sneaking off to the beach. Sure enough, her mother pulls into the driveway right before they do, and though Jessie’s friends get out with her to give her support, Mrs Rogers leaps out of the car like a wildcat. (Dark eyes, heavy glare, wears a severe work suit to teach history students — or maybe she used to teach and now she is in administration, but that’s not clear, and the suit seems a bit much for teaching.) Her mother shouts at her, and at Nick for going along with her “worst tendencies” which is apparently a thing that Jessie’s parents give her shit for all the time.
Then her father and the family lawyer get out of her mother’s car, too. Dude, I am not sure I believe the family lawyer is just hanging out with you in your car. Also, if this is about the divorce, they would have separate lawyers. ALSO, I have my doubts that a teacher and a principal (because of course that is what her dad does) would have a family lawyer in the first goddamn place.
Her father shouts at her for awhile about not setting the right example for the rest of the school, and this all really, really sucks.
Jessie knows that they all think she’s crazy, and then she starts wondering if she imagined the whole thing, including the half-drowned body in her arms before it was pulled away.
Nick stands up for her, and look Cargill, he can either be the standup guy who helps his friends or he can be the obnoxious guy who tries too hard and stalks her to protect her, but you don’t get to do the abusive stalky part and then try to overcome it by making him act decent. That’s fucked up.
Her friends leave, and Jessie listens to her parents and the lawyer from her bedroom. Mr Evans is drawing up the child custody arrangement for them, and that is a conflict of interest, for him to represent both of them during a divorce.
There’s a lot of time spent on her parents arguing over who is to blame for her being so terrible, and I want to punch them both in the face. Yes, at least one of the things she did was a terrible choice (she picked up a hitchhiker at 16 who stole the car from her), but mostly it’s just high spirits and her really caring about the world and wanting to make it better. Shit, with parents like hers, I’m surprised she isn’t burning down the world. [Dove: Hey Jessie, do what I did. Move out on your own.] [Wing: Legally, she cannot at this age.]
Cheer on the killer: 10 (+9)
Basically, I want the surf girl to be some sort of sea monster who lures people to their deaths, and I want her to take out Nick and Jessie’s parents and then for her and Jessie to leave forever as queer girl sea monsters. [Dove: TENTACLE PORN!] [Wing: Release the kraken.]
Jessie finally starts to drift off, her open windows letting in a nice breeze carrying the scent of saltwater (which is glorious, and I want to be living in a place like that right now), until she hears a voice whisper her name. At first she tries to ignore it, but then it comes again, much louder, and she sits in the dark for awhile waiting to hear it again. Brave move, Jessie.
When she gets up and searches her bedroom, she can’t get the lights to turn on. She blames the high winds knocking out the power, and keeps searching her room, even her closet. That is even more badass in the dark. She finally decides that it must be the old-fashioned clock radio her parents had given her, which doesn’t ever get a station, just static. Does it run on batteries, because if not, you’ve just ruined your own theory there, woman. Oh, yeah, she yanks the plug out of the wall. What about that power outage, huh?
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1)
Jessie has just gone back to bed when that same voice asks her why she won’t listen, because the speaker needs her. And this time she recognizes it as that surfer’s voice. The voice keeps crying out for her to help, until the final cry sounds strangled and forced, as if someone was taking their last breath. Jessie accidentally touches the necklace, and the shells are warm and vibrating slightly. She listens to the sound of the sea in one of the shells, and while that is a thing that actually does happen with shells, I’ve been picturing shells far too small for that to work, so … I have no idea how big this necklace is, I guess is my point. Faintly in the distance she thinks she hears someone calling for help inside the shell.
Jessie sits awake for a long time, and when she finally sleeps, she dreams again about drowning. She wakes with a start, and hurries to dress and sneak out of the house. She doesn’t care about her parents catching her, she knows what she needs to do. The path from her house to the sea is surrounded by towering oak trees with branches blowing wildly in the wind. I fucking love what Cargill does with the setting. (Also, I love the street names: this one is Great Neck Road.)
Jessie is determined to find the body, afraid the girl’s spirit can’t rest until she does. She wants to find it and make sure it is properly buried before the seagulls and dogs get to it. How many dogs are running around loose in this town?!
Of course, this plan isn’t going to be as easy as she hopes, because now the entire Norwegian Lady Plaza has been blocked off with roadblocks and police barricades. That’s what happens when teens keep drowning there. Probably a good thing.
Though Jessie has never believed in ghosts prior to this point, she leaps pretty solidly into belief now, though she has no idea how she can help, since she’s only human. All she knows is that she isn’t crazy and she isn’t imagining things — this is real.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)
I cannot tell you how tired I am of the trope in supernatural stories that goes, oh you’re not actually crazy, you’re just dealing with something supernatural. This happens all the goddamn time, and it annoys me to no end. First, because it implies that being crazy is the worst thing in the goddamn world, and second, because I want stories about people who are both crazy AND dealing with the supernatural.
The moon was full tonight. An eerie silver glow illuminated the cresting waves as they came crashing against the shore. Each wave caused the planking of the boardwalk itself to creak and groan in protest. The wind was still up, and it threw her hair back away from her face at one moment and then whipped it around her neck the next. The foam and salt spattered her face and clothes.
She scanned the beach – or what used to be the beach – beneath her. The tide was running so high tonight it had lapped it up and coiled around the posts driven into the sand that supported the boardwalk structure.
The body could not be here. There was no place for it to rest.
NEEDS MORE WEREWOLVES.
Bet you saw that coming. But also, I really do love how Cargill uses pretty light description to build such good atmosphere.
Jessie starts to make her way to the old pier, but before she reaches it, she is struck by panic. The old pier is shrouded in darkness despite the bright moonlight, and she knows there’s someone — something — waiting for her. She can feel it. Cargill does a really nice job here in making the skin along my spine crawl, even though none of this is actually all that terrifying, just nicely atmospheric.
The old pier starts to shake, but not just from the force of the waves; there is something coming toward her, and she swears she can hear that voice calling for her help. She absolutely does not want to see the beautiful surfer girl dead, but she can’t seem to move, and her heart races.
Someone grabs her from behind, covering her mouth to hide her screams, and it is of course goddamn Nick grabbing her again. Jesus fucking christ, you are such a fucking creeper. Jessie is relieved to see him, but I am still so grossed out and infuriated by his earlier behavior that I hope he drowns.
Cheer on the killer: 11 (+1)
I beat you because I love you: 11 (+1)
Jessie gives herself a second to calm down, then asks why he’s there. He says he knew she’d be there, and she wants to know why he’s there after hearing what her parents said. After all, no one made him her keeper. I think the real question is WHY he knew she’d be there. What secrets are you keeping, Nick?
Nick says that the pier is literally crumbling as they stand there, which is true, and that he knew she would come do some crazy, lunatic thing.
ANY TIME YOU WANT TO GET ON WITH THAT DROWNING, NICK.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 10 (+7)
Cheer on the killer: 12 (+1)
Jessie had felt super close to him for a moment, but now she sees his arrogance again, how he thinks he’s better, saner, more stable, more responsible, and she tells him to go away, because she has to do something and she doesn’t need him. Jessie, I kind of love you again in this moment.
Nick grabs her again, because Nick is fucking terrible, and Jessie lashes out at him verbally.
I beat you because I love you: 12 (+1)
That point is for Nick, just so we’re all clear, not Jessie.
Nick finally admits that he lied to Jessie earlier, and he saw the surf girl, too. At first Jessie is relieved because this really drives home that she’s not crazy. (Fuck that noise.) Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 11 (+1) Then, when she asks why he lied and he doesn’t bring out his usual excuses, she realizes that something strange is going on. Finally, she asks why he really came that night, if he heard a voice calling to him.
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he asks if he can tell her something, and then begs her to believe him, even though they don’t always get along. His admission is that he did everything he did today because he had to, because he likes her. ABUSE, STALKING, IS NOT ROMANTIC. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
I beat you because I love you: 1012 (+1000)
Jessie is super into this, and I am so disappointed. JESSIE! He bosses you around and grabs you and physically throws you over his shoulder to drag you away when he thinks you’re someplace you shouldn’t be. THIS IS NOT FUCKING LOVE.
They make out awhile, and then Nick says he needs to show her something.
He takes her back to his house. It’s 4 a.m., all the lights are on, and his parents aren’t home. She finds some of that weird, some of it not. Apparently, his parents are on a Bermuda cruise with his sisters, some sort of surgeons’ convention. UMM. Why you no go with them, Nick? Maybe you could get lost in the Bermuda Triangle and make me happy.
Parents? What parents?: 1 (+1) (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)
At least they’re not in Europe this time, I guess that’s a plus.
The lights are all on because of an old mariner’s tradition; the house is right on the water, and ships lost at sea or foundering in a storm expect a light on land to guide their way. Well, no, Nick, they expect a lighthouse to guide their way, and also tell them how to avoid shallow water and rocks. I’m pretty sure your lights are just leading them to their doom.
I do like the house, though. It’s ultramodern, with light woods and polished teak, metal, glass, and thick black leather everywhere. Sounds like my aesthetics, though my leather furniture tends to be blood red.
Even more, I love the room on the third floor that Jessie has never seen before, a large, airy room furnished with antiques from the last century, maps and charts, paintings of ships, and bookshelves covering the walls. Add a couple octopus pieces of art, and I’m home. There’s a spyglass and a widow’s walk, because of course there is.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 3 (+1)
Nick starts to tell Jessie a story about his family, which stems all the way back to Captain Olaf Stieveson who came from Norway in the 1890s. He was the only sea captain in the family, but the family has lived in the house ever since. [Dove: That surname. Every time I see it, I feel the need to correct it to “Stevenson”.] [Wing: Google wants to correct it too.]
Captain Olaf was a happy man who owned the swiftest ship on the seas (look at that sybillance!), The Norwegian Lady, ran a small shipping company in Norway, and enjoyed robust health. He loves the sea voyages he takes and the brisk wind in his face. I feel you, Captain Olaf.
He falls in love with Ingrid, a beautiful woman from a landed family who owns a castle by the sea. She’s basically the ice princess Snow White, with birds landing on her and talking to her and Captain Olaf enthralled with her before they’ve ever met, based solely on how she looks walking along the shore.
He gets so distracted by her that one day, during foul weather, he gave the wrong order and turned the ship into nearly gale-strength wind. The ship went down, many of his crew were drowned, and the captain washed ashore on a piece of driftwood. Ingrid found him and had her servants bring him home. Apparently, her special powers were well known: she mixed potions and built a giant fire, talking to Captain Olaf in the flames. This is weird and kind of cool at the same time. I want to talk to people in giant fires. [Dove: Read Howl’s Moving Castle.] [Wing: Didn’t you give me a copy already?] [Dove: Yes, with a very pretty cover.] She asks if he will consent to be bound to her for the rest of his earthly days if she gives him back his life. When he doesn’t answer, she sends away the servants and TAKES OUT HER FUCKING EYE OH MY GOD WHAT?!
Her eye is a bright crystal orb with a turquoise stone embedded inside. She puts it in the flames and tells Captain Olaf to look into her eye so he can see the life he’ll have. She promises him riches beyond measure, eternal youth, and her love. He finally agrees to be bound to her, and he lives.
He convalescences at Ingrid’s castle, and she tells him that she buried the bodies of his crew and has The Norwegian Lady in dry dock for repairs. Whenever he is with her, he feels wonderful, but when they are apart, he feels chilled to his bones by the North Sea. He stays with her longer and longer, even though things are strange. The servants won’t answer his questions about her, she seems to have no family, and there are animals everywhere, most which follow Ingrid around like he does, with their sad, soulful eyes. Sometimes he thinks they are going to talk to him, but that’s insane, animals don’t talk. Fuck off.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 12 (+1)
One day a seagull dives between Ingrid and Captain Olaf, and Ingrid orders her servants to kill it. She tells Olaf that they can never be too careful because birds carry disease. When Olaf questions whether she really had to kill it when it meant no harm (OR DID IT), she says that he was her bird, she let him live there, and he was ungrateful. She doesn’t like ungrateful creatures. [Dove: NO. WE DO NOT KILL BIRDS. Dove is currently spending roughly £5 a day feeding the wild birds in her garden. It’s almost as expensive as smoking.] [Wing: *hates birds*] [Dove: You’re called WING.]
Once he’s healthy again, Ingrid and Olaf marry aboard The Norwegian Lady and she returns to his home with him. Sure enough, Olaf starts to build a fortune, a fleet of trading ships, an import-export company, all the Norwegian captains and seamen working for him. His ships never sank and they always had good weather. Ingrid rules like a queen, throwing vast dinner parties and inviting people to eat of delicious pig and beef; she imports all her food from her home.
Y’ALL, THE PIGS ARE PEOPLE. Just in case that subtlety passed you by. [Dove: She’s Circe.] [Wing: Yes. Like I said, subtle.]
In time, they have a daughter, and Olaf is so pleased, though he dislikes his long voyages taking him away from his family. Ingrid promises him that she can keep herself amused, but he swears he won’t stay away for so many months next time.
That is when the rumors start, people whispering about why she’s so anxious to have her husband away at the sea, how when people cross her, they disappear and are never seen again. Olaf is enraged by the gossip, and challenges people to pistols and punching all the time. Oh, Olaf, I find you delightful. Eventually, his friends start telling him that she has him bewitched, and he can’t think about anything but her.
He comes back early from a voyage, but can’t find Ingrid anywhere. He finally finds her in the backyard arbor chastising a servant. She grabs the man’s throat, and sure enough, turns him into a pig. PIGS ARE PEOPLE.
She sees him then, and they both pretend that things are normal, but he knows, and she knows that he knows, and he knows that she knows that he knows. (Yes, the book actually does that bit in the middle of this framed story. Ugh.)
Olaf tries to escape her, but she doesn’t let him. Eventually, he opens a trade route to the east coast of the United States, because the voyages keep him gone for months. His favorite dock is Norfolk, Virginia, and he loves the land around Virginia Beach, so he built a house there and started spending more time there.
He met Anna and fell in love, then made her his mistress. She lived at the Virginia Beach home and paced the widow’s walk waiting for him when he was at sea. She bore him a son and took the captain’s last name, not bothered by the fact he could not marry her.
After Olaf 2’s birthday, Anna had to wait a long time for Captain Olaf’s return, because when he got back to Norway, Ingrid told him he’s achieved his life’s desire and he doesn’t need to go on any more voyages. He pretended to agree with her and made secret plans. He sent her to look for a house in the country as a place to retire, and she took their daughter with him. As soon as she left, he fled to The Norwegian Lady. He wrote to Anna and told her to be ready to leave, because they will not stay at the house in Virginia Beach. Instead, he would come as close to the shore as he dared and flash a lantern for her, and then she would take a rowboat out to meet him, with the baby. They would then go to Dismal Swamp, North Carolina, run the ship aground, and hide it there, then go buy a small farm inland, safe from Ingrid and the sea.
Captain Olaf spends most of his time on the voyage alone on the deck with no company except for the ship’s gray tiger cat, Old Monk, who seems as eager as Captain Olaf to land. Oh, Olaf, you great idiot. When they get near Virginia Beach, there was a storm blowing in, but he did not let that stop him. When he reached for the lantern, though, Old Monk clawed at him and bit him. Finally, he hit it with the lantern and, shock, Ingrid appeared. He managed to keep the lantern from her, but she pulls out her own eye and uses it as a beacon for Anna. Because the baby is sick, Anna has left him behind with her mother, but she heads out for The Norwegian Lady in her little boat, but she drowned on the way, boat swamped by the storm.
Captain Olaf watched it happen, and then shouts at Ingrid. Um, sir, I did not see you doing anything to try to save the woman you profess to love. Captain Olaf demands she free him from his promise to be bound to her, but he will never be free. Instead, she used her eye to shrink him from a full-size man to a tiny, hairless creature no bigger than a thumbnail, a “dead-looking thing with yellow skin and no teeth”. She then trapped him in the center of the crystal eye. Before she did, though, he managed to order his crew to scuttle the ship, and Ingrid is sucked down with it into the black ocean. UMM. I do not believe the crew would kill themselves to follow his orders in this situation, either. And apparently some of them survived the sinking ship, but Ingrid disappeared into it? This is just weird.
Before she disappeared, she cursed Captain Olaf and his bastard line into serving her for all time, to fulfill the bond that he made with her.
Nick ends this story by saying that he thinks Ingrid is after Jessie. Now she understands why Nick looked so horrified when the scuba diver gave her the necklace with the “blue eye” crystal on it. When she understandably asks why Ingrid would be after her, when Jessie is not a descendant of Captain Olaf, he doesn’t know, and says it’s hard to understand all the occult stuff, it’s better to leave it alone. Not really sure you’re going to get that as a choice, NICK.
Nick demands that she leave the “mysterious power” alone, going so far as to push her back down into her chair. NOT COOL, NICK.
I beat you because I love you: 1013 (+1)
When she finally tells him about her drowning dreams, he promises to protect her, but Jessie knows that is impossible. She still lets him lead her down to sleep on the sofa in the living room. They’re woken the next morning by Nick’s family conveniently coming home, and they’ve brought a new friend: Marina Jacobsen, who is very clearly the surf girl. She has the same long blond hair, the tall graceful stance, the winning but mysterious smile, and the pale blue eyes that seemed to glow with a light all their own.
What other light would they glow with?
Jessie calls Trish (and Dot, who apparently is spending the night) to tell them that Nick’s parents brought the missing girl home from their cruise, and their ship fished her out of the sea or something. That is not exactly the story we got literally a few sentences before, but okay, whatever.
The Stieveson family has been acting weird since Marina entered their home. Mrs Stieveson even smoothed things over with Jessie’s mom and explained that Jessie is a hero, she kept Marina alive long enough for the ship to find her. UM. There was no ship around yesterday, and if there had been, and it dragged a body out of the water at Virginia Beach, PEOPLE WOULD FUCKING KNOW ABOUT IT.
Dr Stieveson, who is normally quite a talker, is acting quiet and exhausted, and Nick’s sisters are slow to respond. Nick freaks out and refuses to even shake Marina’s hand.
Jessie tells all this to Trish very quickly, and Trish promises her it will be all right, and suggests they meet at the park right away. Their conversation is interrupted when Marina puts her hand over Jessie’s on the phone and very gently forces her to hang up, even though Jessie doesn’t realize what she’s doing at the time. This is also not cool, Marina.
After that whole story about Captain Olaf and how everyone keeps forcing Jessie to do things, I should just give it an infinity counter and be done with it.
I beat you because I love you: infinity
Marina thanks Jessie for helping her, and Jessie is just overwhelmed by her, the sparkle in her eyes, the depth, the smooth voice — aww, Jessie, your girl crush is back.
Jessie spends the rest of the morning talking with Marina, who has a lot of questions because she has amnesia. My, that is convenient. In fact, she wouldn’t even known her own name, except Dr Stieveson found a bracelet with her name engraved on the inside.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 2 (+2) (“Oh, gee! You mean Billy-Bob has the exact information we need? What are the odds?”)
Marina wants to know everything about Virginia Beach, Jessie, and the Stievesons, particularly Jessie’s love of swimming. Jessie doesn’t understand why she was so nervous when she first saw Marina. Clearly they are going to be friends.
Nick keeps trying to get her away from Marina, but she ignores him and wonders when he’s started being so obnoxious, because usually he’s polite. UM. Literally nothing he’s done so far in this book has made him seem polite, but okay.
When Trish and Dot turn up, Dot is ashen pale and super nervous, barely able to speak; Trish is concentrating so hard that she’s even wearing matching shoes. Jessie snaps at them to go away when they try to get her away from Marina, and they do. Eventually, though, she has to go home, and Nick gives her a ride home. He’s trying to talk her into going somewhere else with him to talk when Marina runs up, asking Jessie if she was wearing a necklace, because she sort of remembers one. Marina gets into the car to ride to Jessie’s house with her. At first Nick refuses to drive them, but when Jessie asks him to, he gives in. He then drives in a dangerous, threatening way that terrifies her, and if I hadn’t already hit infinity on the abuse counter, I would here.
Jessie and her mother argue again, and Jessie finally remembers that Nick is really upset and she’s suddenly afraid for him. She shoves past her mother and then a lot of things happen very quickly: her bedroom window shatters, the lights go out, the sun is gone and it is dark as night, a wind whips through her bedroom breaking things, and there’s a large crash outside.
Jessie is disoriented in her own bedroom, can’t tell where anything is, can’t even tell where her mother is, even though she was literally just pushing her a moment before. Jessie stumbles into the spot where her jewelry box fell and cuts herself on a shard of glass from her broken perfume bottle. Better be careful, Jessie, that’s how you get an evil twin who will do terrible things when she controls your body, like going to school without brushing her teeth.
Somehow this helps Jessie orient herself, and she makes it to her bedside table, but the shell necklace is gone. She wants to search for it, because she doesn’t want Marina to be devastated, but she knows it is gone. And she’s worried about Nick, needs to get to him as soon as possible. She basically crawls out of the house and down the stairs and makes it out the front door. There’s a crowd gathered where Nick’s car was parked, and an old oak tree has fallen right there. The neighbors are talking about how it was a tornado, and how weird that is, because they get violent storms but not normally tornadoes. And it’s true, that’s not a part of the country that gets tornadoes all that often.
Then they start shouting that there’s still someone in the car. Jessie freaks out because she can’t handle Nick being dead, not after she’s been so cruel to him that day, not after he kissed her for the first time. UGH NO NICK SHOULD NOT BE THE ROMANTIC LEAD HERE HE IS A STALKER AND IS TERRIBLE.
Jessie goes to the car, driven by some unknown urgency, and manages to drag Nick out of it just before the car engine explodes. Because that’s something that happens all the time and not mostly in movies only.
Next chapter picks up with Nick in Norfolk Memorial Hospital. He doesn’t remember much about the accident, and all he knows that every bone feels broken and he hurts everywhere, but of course he’s actually escaped serious injury. A couple ribs are cracked and his left arm is broken, but other than that, he only has a mild concussion that he recovers from fast. At least they actually treat hitting his head as something to be treated in the hospital along with his broken bones, I guess.
Jessie has been sneaking in to see him, but Nick is certain that Marina is keeping her away more and more often. Then he flashes back to what happened that Saturday afternoon. I thought he didn’t remember most of the accident!
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 3 (+1)
Anyway, Nick confronted Marina that afternoon, telling her she thinks she’s so clever but Nick and his father both see through her. He keeps yelling at her about how much Jessie cares for him and how she’ll never turn Jessie against him, and throughout it all, she stays quiet. That’s a neat trick, Marina, because too often people will fill silence without even meaning to.
Nick actually tries to grab her and shake her, because Nick throws his strength around like a weapon against girls all the damn time in this book, but then the storm kicks up and the oak tree crashes down — and Nick remembers nothing else.
Dot and Trish keep bringing him information about what’s going on at school, and they are the only two who are not overly impressed with Marina Jacobsen. Apparently Marina turned up at the Stievesons’ house alone that Saturday, saying she hit her head during the storm and she can’t remember how she got out of the car. She’s also not been looking for her missing necklace, though one eye is glowing brighter these days.
Even after Nick is allowed out of the hospital, he still has to miss two more weeks of school, and he can’t swim even after he goes back. When he gets home, though, he finds that his father does nothing but sit around watching sports and drinking beer. He’s not going into work, he’s not bothered by anything, and he’s not talking to Nick about how to stop Marina.
While trying to learn more about Marina, Nick stumbles on the briefcase his father took to that last conference. It’s never been unpacked. He finds charts, graphs, and medical test results about Marina. Yes, yes, do breach her privacy. That’s totally justifiable because you think she’s a threat.
Nick then reads his father’s journal, which is mostly pointless, until the end. I’m just going to excerpt the main bit here:
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and mouth-to-mouth were performed on deck with no result. Rushed to operating room aboard the ship and doctors from all specialties called in. We have a ship full of them! I was put in charge of the team because of my experience in the emergency trauma unit at Norfolk Memorial.
We worked on the girl for four hours straight right through the late afternoon and early evening. It was the oddest case. Drowning victims are usually blue in color, but she was only very pale. Nor were her lungs filled with water. When we pumped, nothing came out. We could find no reason why she shouldn’t be breathing, but she wasn’t.
There was no heartbeat nor any sign of one. Her pulse could not be taken. Blood pressure was totally absent. At first we thought our equipment was malfunctioning. It would register nothing. Absolute zero. It was as if we were working on a wooden dummy instead of a human being. It reminded me of those old days in first-year medical school when we practiced on the cadavers, the ones that were cold and long dead.
The other physicians in attendance thought we should pack her up in ice and send her to the deep freeze. It was a peculiar case, one for the medical journals, but she was obviously dead. There must be no sign of decay because either she had just died or the cold seawater in the Atlantic had preserved her body.
We all consulted with each other, and everyone but me decided to give up the case. They were eager to attend the captain’s ball that evening. They had already missed an afternoon’s worth of conference events and wanted to get their money’s worth before we docked in Norfolk again.
“Fly her to Norfolk Memorial and do an autopsy if you’re curious!” one friend told me, clapping me on the back. “Don’t waste your time tonight.”
I wish I had followed his advice. Or better yet l wish I had forgotten about the case altogether, just like any other sane doctor. Then I would be ignorant of what I know now. I wouldn’t possess this horrible knowledge that I’ve got to live with every day and then carry to the grave with me.
I decided to try one more test. You could call it the ultimate test to see if someone is truly dead or alive. I’ve known cases where blood pressure wouldn’t register on clearly living, healthy persons. My patients and I have laughed about it. Ditto with the pulse. And people who haven’t been breathing for a long time have been brought back to life, particularly if their bodies have been kept cold in the meantime. But I’ve never known a case where brain waves were absent and the person was alive.
I hooked her up to an electroencephalogram machine, of course expecting to find nothing so that my mind, too, could be at rest and I could join my wife and daughters for dinner and dancing. Much to my surprise, brain waves were present. Nor were they the brain waves of one dying on the operating table or even the brain waves of one asleep. They were the normal brain waves of a conscious, breathing person who was fully awake.
I was very tired from working six hours straight on this case, and my nerves were frayed.
I confess I gave way at that moment to unprofessional behavior I backed away from the operating table in horror, staring at her body for many moments before I could approach her again. My imagination was running away from me, and I thought I was sharing the room with some strange sort of unexplained creature who was taking in everything that I did. Did she hear my sharp intake of breath? I feared she saw me through those wide open, gaping eyes that stared at the ceiling. They seemed so intensely blue.
Then I shook myself I must be very tired, more tired than I knew. The only explanation was that I had used the machine wrong or it was malfunctioning Anything else my mind couldn’t accept.
I gave orders for her body to be sent to the deep freeze to keep the corpse under refrigeration until we reached shore. I hoped I was done with the wretched case and it would bother me no more.
I had quite a bit to drink that night. I had an inkling I hadn’t seen my last of her.
Friday – late – about midnight:
We’d all been dancing for hours. Nobody wanted to go back to their cabins. Can’t blame them after what we’ve been through today.
How did I know it even then? A flustered waitress tapped me on the shoulder and said there was someone just outside the dining room who wished to speak to me. The woman looked very confused and upset, so I did not ask any more questions. I grabbed my wife’s drink and downed it before I excused myself
There the girl was, standing on her own two feet just as l knew she would be. She put her hand to her head and looked at me with those intense blue eyes that I could see even in the darkness. “Dr. Stieveson,” she said in a voice so clear it sounded like a crystal bell, “could you tell me where I am?”
“Who do we have here? Oh, poor thing!” My wife had followed me outside and proceeded to gush over the girl. If she hadn’t shown up, I don’t know what I would have done. I couldn’t speak I was lost from that moment.
The creature even knew my name.
Next chapter goes back to Jessie, who is worried that it will be hard to concentrate on school when she’s so worried about Nick, but Marina helps her focus. Marina charms the teachers and is the best student in almost every class, though she doesn’t know much about Science or math. All the girls are envious of her good looks and charm and all the boys ask her out, which is both ridiculously heterocentric (QUEER TEENS EXIST, CARGILL) and also deserves a counter.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 100 (+100) (Because girls can’t be friends, AMIRIGHT?)
Marina turns everyone down with a gracious smile and tells them she won’t be there long. Evil temptress or not, I kind of adore Marina. The press does too, and keeps writing articles about “Real Life Mermaid Comes to Virginia Beach.” Oh, press.
Marina joins the swim team, and Jessie has talked up her skills so much that the whole school, minus Nick, turns up for her first practice. Jessie thinks that Marina is an even better swimmer than Nick, and that once he finds out, he’ll hate her even more. Sure enough, Marina breaks Nick’s record for the 200 yard breaststroke, and the coach invites her to take his place in the big meet. (You know, the SOLE big meet, because obviously there’s only one.) She suggests Jessie do it instead, and Jessie is super embarrassed, because she’s only an average swimmer with an unspectacular time, and she’s just good, old dependable Jess who impresses no one. The coach tells Marina he’ll put Jessie in the center lane when she swims as fast as Marina, and Marina says that by the meet, she will.
Marina starts coaching Jessie after school. While Jessie has her doubts this will help, she takes time off of her job to practice (and then fully quits it at Marina’s urging). She is improving her times, but she’s not yet better than her. Marina starts encouraging her to think about trying for the Olympic team in the near future, and so Jessie devotes herself entirely to her swimming and does whatever Marina suggests.
Nick calls her one night after practice and asks if they can get together after school the next day. She tells him she’s busy, and he questions why she’s spending so much time with Marina and tells her to stop. Jessie hangs up on him and refuses to answer when he calls back.
Marina tells her that she shouldn’t spend time with Nick, and I hate all of you for trying to tell Jessie who she can and can’t be friends with. GROSS, PEOPLE. Even grosser that it is supposed to be evil when Marina does it and a sign of his love and devotion when Nick does it.
Jessie beats Nick’s record, and does wonder if he’s jealous of her.
There’s a chapter about Nick trying to sneak around to see Jessie and how he keeps sensing something evil, but I am so frustrated by his presentation as the love interest that I can’t bring myself to give a single fuck.
Nick teams up with Trish and Dot, and they all go pretty easily to the idea that Marina is a magical evil sea witch. No questioning it at all, which feels rushed and weird, in part because the pacing is so up and down when Cargill jumps between Nick’s and Jessie’s POVs.
Nick confronts his father, and his father shows him that his toes are starting to grow together and he thinks Marina is turning him into a pig. He then tells Nick that Nick only knows part of the story, and ever since 1897, a member of the Stieveson family died violently by the sea, usually a woman, and Ingrid the witch hunts them down to make certain Captain Stieveson’s descendants are no happier in love than he was with his Anna.
Little Olaf grew up and married, and Ingrid haunted his unnamed wife, her face appearing in water everywhere, including in the tea she drank. She went mad, refused all food and water, and starved herself to death. Nick’s grandmother, meanwhile, kept hearing a child out at sea calling for help. She finally gave in and went to the beach early one morning, and a wave caught her the second she stepped into the water.
Then Nick’s father tells him SURPRISE your mother isn’t the woman who gave birth to him. Surprise adoptions are my favorite trope, you know. (THIS IS A LIE.) Dr Stieveson grew up knowing about the curse, so he got a job in Tucson, Arizona, which is the middle of the desert, and thought them safe. His wife (also unnamed, damn it) didn’t believe in the curse though he told her about it, and she and some friends drove into Mexico to the coast. She wet herself in the waves just a little, and was killed by a jellyfish, a kind that is never found around North America before, only Australia (where everything is trying to kill you).
Nick doesn’t understand why Marina hasn’t killed Jessie, even though she’s just his girlfriend, not his wife. Marriage not really a pre-req for all these things, or did you get a different story than I did, Nick? Not to mention, based on this book, “boyfriend” is a pretty loose interpretation of that one damn kiss.
Early Saturday morning Trish calls him to say that Marina and Jessie have taken off together and appear to be headed toward the beach.
Next chapter opens with a diary entry from Jessie, which we’ve never seen before. Blah. She writes about Nick being weird and how Marina gave him a look that scared Jessie and how she loves Nick and she guesses he’s become her boyfriend. Nothing at all about their interactions make me believe this relationship, Cargill. You are telling me something but showing me something quite different.
Jessie is having doubts about Marina, for no real reason that we’re shown, just told about, and then she starts to see lines and wrinkles in Marina’s face that weren’t there before. Nick turns up behind them, and Marina takes off on a wild drive either trying to lose him or make him crash, but he manages to get even with them and slam the cars together. They keep going and neither wreck. I’m not sure I believe this at all.
Eventually Marina drives into him, but Nick still manages not only to get out of his car but to run around and drag Jessie out of her car. He shouts at her about who Marina really is, and all the old stories come back to Jessie, and she’s determined to save Nick no matter what. She tells Nick he’s being ridiculous and sends him home before getting back into the car with Marina.
Nick drives home slowly, despairing that he’s lost Jessie to Marina, and ends up driving into a flooded section of the road and the water carries him downstream into a swamp by Seashore State Park.
Jessie goes out on the surfboard with Marina, but keeps having a premonition about Nick drowning. Turns out, her dreams of all that black water have really been about Nick’s death. Um. Ok. Not at all how they were described before.
Jessie hits her head hard, but Marina saves her, and Jessie doesn’t understand why. Jessie wants to find Nick, and tunes out Marina talking about all the success Jessie will have in swim competitions. Marina gets her to the pool and Jessie starts to compete, but then Trish and Dot hold up a cardboard sign that says “It’s Nick” and Jessie gets out of the pool and runs for them. Nick’s back in the hospital, and this time he’s dying. [Dove: Yeah, right.]
The nurses don’t want to let her in to see him, but Jessie compels them to do so, because suddenly she has a new power, because of course she fucking does. Cargill, what even are you writing? Have you just given up? She then fucking compels Nick to wake up and live, and he fucking does.
Jessie now knows what she is — that is why Marina didn’t just kill her. She can’t. Jessie has the same power as Marina. You … you do? Since fucking when? She says this is why she constantly daydreamed and had premonitions and nightmares her entire life, but that sounds not much like Marina’s powers at all! Jessie can’t figure out why she has power, though.
Then Marina comes into the room and tells her “Hello, daughter.”
Incest is relative: 1000 (+1000)
ALSO, this means TWO FUCKING SECRET ADOPTION STORYLINES IN ONE GODDAMN BOOK. Oh wait, not direct daughter, never mind, Cargill just wanted to go for the DRAMA instead of accuracy.
Marina takes Jessie back to the Stieveson house and tells her the rest of the story. She is the descendant of Ingrid and Captain Olaf’s daughter who had been left behind in Norway. Jessie’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother have all been disappointments who turned away from magic, and Jessie suddenly understands her mother better than ever. [Dove: But this still means that Nick and Jessie are dimly related right?] [Wing: Yup. Double the incest in this book. It’s awesome like that.]
Jessie decides to trick Marina into giving her the crystal from her eye. Jessie plays with magic with Marina for the rest of the afternoon, and Jessie loves the strength, but plans to use her gift for good instead of becoming like Ingrid | Marina.
Marina says her parents have finally come to find her, but wants it to be a surprise. She, Jessie, and the whole gang go to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens while they wait, and Jessie is still playing along with Marina’s plans for her to ensnare Nick and end the Stieveson family line.
Of course there’s a storm coming in, but they still take a boat tour through the canals and out into the bay. Jessie capsizes the boat, because I totally believe the tour boat is small enough for her to do that. Jessie borrows Marina’s turquoise eye because she doesn’t quite know how to use her own yet. I also totally believe that Marina falls for this.
Jessie turns the stone on Marina because “Nick loves me and I love him.” I am going to VOMIT.
She turns Marina into “a shriveled gray form” which reminds me of The Little Mermaid movie. Very original, Cargill. Then Marina disappears, and Jessie frees Captain Olaf’s soul too. Dr Stieveson is even back to his old self. Jessie gets along better with her parents, and the Norwegian Lady watches over the horizon and all those people who were taken by the sea.
Cheer on the killer: 1012 (+100)
This started so well and then went so very, very wrong. The exact same story would have worked a lot better if Nick had either not been the love interest, but rather a terrified friend who Jessie had to save, or if he had been the love interest without being so stalkery. (Though that wouldn’t have fixed the pacing issues or how badly the head hopping was handled.)
[Dove: I think I’ve figured out why we like mostly the same tropes, but enjoy different books. I’m not a description person, I’m a dialogue person. This book was heavier on the description than the dialogue, whereas Cusick barely describes more than one location in her books. Hence, despite Cusick making some truly terrible choices in her books, I’m more ready to try them. Also, I wanted to stab Nick repeatedly.]
Cheer on the killer: 1012
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 3
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1
I beat you because I love you: infinity
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 100
Incest is relative: 1000
McGuffin, ahoy!: 3
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 12
My, that’s awfully convenient: 2
Parents? What parents?: 1