It is the summer of 1963, and 12-year-old Florine Gilham lives with her parents on The Point, a small fishing village in Maine. She has spent July swimming on the rocky beaches and playing in the piney forests with the same group of friends she’s known all her life. When a prank goes awry, the children are forbidden to play together for the rest of the summer, but that just means that Florine can spend more time with her mother, Carlie. That is, until Carlie disappears. The strength of Morgan Callan Rogers’ Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea lies not in the mystery of Carlie’s disappearance, but in the way her absence shapes and determines Florine’s passage into adulthood and impacts the larger community.
Carlie disappears on an annual “girls weekend” taken with her friend Patty, a fellow waitress at the Lobster Shack. Though local and state law enforcement is called in to work the case, it remains unsolved year after year. When her father begins to drink heavily, Florine moves in with her paternal grandmother, who provides stability she badly needs. As the years pass, Florine enters high school, runs with her same group of friends and is even tempted into a brief drug-fueled affair with the son of one of the wealthy families who summer on the Maine coast. At the same time, she emulates her grandmother’s quiet life—baking bread and knitting sweaters to be sold in the general store, going to church and waiting at the edge of The Point for the fishing boats to return every evening. But without her mother and estranged from her father and his new girlfriend, she often feels that the heart is literally missing from her life.
Rogers grew up in Maine and knows intimately the strengths and drawbacks of living in a small community, where your neighbors know all your business and where what nurtures you can also stifle your growth. The novel is filled with a kind of fresh honesty, as well as dry wit—seen most of all in the character of Florine. She is impetuous and sassy, but truthful to a fault. It is almost impossible not to care about her.