Cover art © James Shefcik.
This is the third book in the Tillerman series, but it’s not a sequel. Instead, it tells the life story of Jeff Greene, a boy living in Baltimore with his father, a college professor. Their relationship is distant, so much that Jeff calls his father “The Professor.” Jeff’s mother, Melody, who he remembers fondly, left the two of them when he was seven, and since then Jeff has struggled to keep things normal in their home, doing as much of the housework as he can, making things as easy as possible for his father. Emotionally both father and son are damped down, cut off. “It doesn’t matter,” is their byword. Both are clearly sad and hurt by the departure of their wife and mother.
Things change when Jeff is in high school and suddenly his mother gets in touch and invites him to stay with her in Charleston for the summer. Arrangements are made, and soon Jeff and his mother are reunited. At first all is wonderful, Jeff’s love for Melody is reawakened, and her charm and beauty are focused on him. Jeff meets her family for the first time, a matriarchal grandmother and others living in an old family home in Charleston. Jeff enjoys this, too, but after a while Melody has less and less time for him, and he takes to wandering Charleston on his own.
The following summer Jeff is invited again, but this time finds himself not very welcome. His great-grandmother has had a stroke, and is no longer interested in him. Melody has almost no time for him, involved with a boyfriend who is not friendly to Jeff. Jeff is devastated by Melody’s obvious lies, and is deeply hurt by her new betrayal. He takes to traveling to a distant shore town every day by bus where he rents a small boat and takes it out to a lonely, abandoned island where the atmosphere suits his own.
Back in Baltimore, Jeff struggles with guilt and depression. His schoolwork suffers, and soon he’s about to flunk out. This crisis finally brings him closer to his father than they’ve ever been. The Professor decides they need a change, and they rent a run-down summer house on the Chesapeake Bay and move there. At this point, Jeff meets the Tillermans and his story is joined with theirs.
Sorry to give so much of the plot, but it’s hard to explain the connection to the other Tillerman books without it. I enjoyed the writing and the characters, though this book is more depressing than “Dicey’s Song” or “Homecoming,” at least until the last third, when things improve for Jeff, even in the face of new crises. I plan to read more of the series, and continue to look for more books by Voigt.