Turner Buckminster has moved with his family from Boston to Phippsburg, Maine, where his father will be the new minister. Unfortunately for Turner, his first days start off poorly and go downhill from there. A star fast-pitch softball player, he's a washout here, where slow-pitch is the game. When he goes swimming, he's scared to jump into the ocean from the granite outcropping as the other kids do. And then he's accused of walking down the middle of the road half-naked, something not done in a God-fearing town such as Phippsburg.
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Bright is aptly named, as she is the bright spot in Turner's early days in Maine. An African-American girl living on Malaga Island, a poor community founded by former slaves and just a short dory ride from Phippsburg, Lizzie meets Turner on the beach. Although Turner already feels like a misfit in his new community and wishes he could light out for the Territories like Huckleberry Finn, Lizzie loves her world on the island and wholeheartedly embraces it. But the frock-coated, good God-fearing men of Phippsburg do not love Malaga Island. Their shipbuilding trade is dying out, and they want to remove the residents of the island and remake their community into a tourist haven. Racism and greed are a powerful and deadly combination, and Turner can do little to stop the adults from destroying Malaga Island. Since the story is based on a true incident of an island's destruction in 1912, there will not be a happy ending here, but this is Turner Buckminster's tale as much as Malaga Island's, and in Turner we see a coming of age. He comes to realize that there are different ways to rebel, to stand your ground and seek a new world. Though the story is tragic, Schmidt writes beautifully, with images of nature and scenes of humor that leaven the sadness of the tale. This is a great story that readers will long remember.