In a departure from my current list of mysteries, dystopics, and paranormal fantasies, I took a breather and picked up Morgan Callan Rogers’ Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea, a smartly told coming of age story set in 1960’s Maine. The story follows young Florine Gilham as she comes to terms with the sudden disappearance of her mother and her own burgeoning womanhood. Told in Florine’s crisp Yankee dialect, the reader is given an intimate look at Florine’s internal struggles—from coping with the mysterious loss of her mother, to her father’s sudden relationship with another woman, to her efforts to understand the changes in her own body as she moves from a playful eleven-year-old girl to a headstrong eighteen-year-old woman.
This was one of those books that really captivates. It’s not so much the story, as there are many holes that are left unfilled and some scattered MacGuffins that almost detract from the ultimate point of the novel (Florine’s coming-of-age), but the character of Florine whose voice is so remarkably honest and fresh, that draws readers in. Florine is brilliant, flaws and all, as she maneuvers her way through the unexpected emotional hardships of her teen years. She’s blunt, yet also prone to sentimental and beautiful imaginings of her lost mother, as she tries to make sense of her changing world. In some ways Florine reminds me of characters from Southern fiction writers like Rebecca Welles, Beth Hoffman, and Fannie Flagg, in that while the voice maintains its Yankee-ness, the language of place and character takes on the spin and beauty similar to that of what is thought of as Southern Fiction. The small town feel and quirky characters almost feel as though they are hushed away in a small Georgia town just slightly on the wrong side of the tracks. Of course, that image lasts only in snippets as the lobster fisherman and dialect take you right back to Coastal Maine. It’s this sense of place and character that really wins readers over more so than the plot itself.
Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea is a good novel, a nice snippet of life in a small northern coastal town, and a candidly told narrative of growing up and moving on. It was an enchanting rainy day read and a delight to sink into.