Eleven-year-old Tess Brooks, whose hair is “pitch brown and straight as pine needles,” is the superstitious sort. She believes good luck floats around, sticking to some people and skipping over others. She loves living on an island off the coast of Maine with her lobster fisherman father, school teacher mother and younger sister Libby.
After Tess’s best friend, Amy Hamilton, and her family move to the mainland, the island’s only school is in jeopardy of closing because of the low student population. If it shuts down, Tess’s mom will lose her job, and her family and several other island families will have to move to the mainland, away from the only home Tess has ever known. In response, several island families have agreed to take in foster children from the mainland. If all goes according to plan, bringing these kids to the island will provide stable homes in a lovely environment, increase enrollment at the school, and avoid the shutdown.
Thirteen-year-old foster child Aaron Spinney is tall and skinny with long red hair “bright as October leaves” and muddy green eyes. He also has a big-time attitude. In his short life, he has had more than his share of bad luck. His mother is a recovering alcoholic and an addict whose whereabouts is unknown. After being taken from his mother, Aaron was raised by his grandmother until she got sick and died. Since her death, he has been bounced around foster homes. Older children are harder to place, but the Brooks welcome Aaron --- along with two younger sisters who want to get to know him --- into their home, where he has his own room with a view of the ocean. But is this enough to make him want to stay?
While most of the community welcomes the foster children to the island, not everyone is kind to them. There’s Mrs. Coombs, the island busybody and biggest complainer, and Eben Calder, the cruel bully who makes fun of Aaron and provokes him into a fight. It soon becomes apparent that Aaron is different, and not just because he’s a foster child. He has a very special and beautiful musical talent. While he is a welcome addition to the Brooks family and the island, at least one person is jealous of his gifts. And he yearns for his own mother, his own family. Will Aaron become part of his new family on the island, or will he try to leave and reconnect with his mother?
TOUCH BLUE is a heart-warming story about family, community, faith and belonging. Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord’s graceful prose paints a lovely picture of life on an island off the coast of Maine and the lives of foster children, using the right touch of compassion but not pity. Lord does an excellent job creating realistic and vivid characters, especially Aaron and Tess, who believes “wishes are slippery things.” This is a charming, delightful and memorable book that makes me wish for more.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on August 1, 2010