Pirate treasure, splintered families, the impacts of climate change, a determined boy, and a compelling immigrant blend together in this adventure for younger teens and middle-grade readers.
1: It’s illegal
Cam grimaces and breathes through the pain. It’s good for you, he tells himself as he levers the olive-green pile of rockweed out of the water and into his boat. That burning means you’re building muscle. One day, you might even make the football team.
But his pulse jumps with alarm as his boat rocks beneath his feet. He’s moved too fast and nearly tipped Ashley.
He pauses a moment, then begins to ease the fronds of slimy seaweed from his rake. He’s gotta be careful—the pile of rockweed in the centre of his boat is growing. If he tips Ashley, he’ll lose the valuable harvest.
The new rockweed slithers onto the weed already piled in the boat. The dense, salty scent of the air bladders and the sight of them swollen with oxygen remind Cam of finding rockweed with his father. As a kid, he’d loved popping the air bladders. They seemed round as balloons, fat and fun, like the air bubbles in packaging.
But those days are gone. His dad has deserted him and disappeared off to Toronto. The only thing that matters now is making money.
Cam stares at the glistening pile of rockweed. How much will he get for it? A couple of hundred? He’s got another $100 from restaurant tips. He needs to harvest more dulse and sand dollars. Tourists love the red seaweed and pretty shells, and they’re easier work than dragging rockweed from the ocean.
He wonders if he can squeeze one more load into the boat. Deciding to go for it, he leans out, dropping the rake into the slimy seaweed that floats like thick, knotted hair on the water’s surface.
It feels like the plants are sticking together, as if they don’t want him disturbing them. But he must, and he raises the rake and sinks its teeth down into the middle of the rockweed. He hauls it out, being careful not to wrench the plants from their roots or sever them too low—if he takes too much, there’ll be no rockweed in the future.
As he pulls the weed from the rake, he thinks how sinewy and strong it feels. Everything has its own life. Everything wants to survive.
“Okay, Mick,” he says, turning to his dog, who is lying, bored, in the boat’s bow. “Time to go.”
Mick turns and barks, short and sharp, as if to stress that Cam has taken too long.
Cam grins. “Okay, old boy. I know you don’t like the water.”
Switching on the engine, he nods as the motor chugs to life. He swings Ashley for shore and soon reaches the sandy edge of the beach. This load will be valuable. It’s a shame disease has killed the sea urchins that restaurants want for sushi, but this is good.
As he drags Ashley up the sand, Mick barks, a brisk warning. Cam glances at his dog and sees him standing erect, his black ears alert, staring into the trees where Stony River empties into the ocean.
Cam gazes into the leafy shade and sees John emerging through the branches. “Hi!” Cam is glad to see his life-long friend.
“Woof!” Mick rushes at John, expecting to be patted.
But John ignores Mick. “Stay away from me, dumb ass.” He glares at Cam. “Your dad’s an idiot. My dad says so.”
“What’s happened?” Cam’s gut heaves. Their dads have been arguing about jobs since the fish stocks fell and the work dried up.
“Ask your old man. Your dad thought he deserved last place on Jack’s boat. He even took a swing at my dad. And my dad’s been fishing with Jack for ages.”
Alarm flickers over Cam’s skin. John has been away at cadet camp. It’s been weeks since they saw each other, and in that time John’s grown. He’s always been big, but now his neck and jaw, his chest and arms, are thick and threatening.
John stares at Ashley, at the mound of glistening rockweed in the motorboat’s centre. “You don’t have a permit to harvest that.”
“I do,” Cam lies. He feels his face flush.
“Yeah, right. You’re too young. It’s illegal.”
“I told you, I’ve got one. I’m using a friend’s.”
John snickers. “You’re a crap liar, O’Connell. And you’re weird—just like your dad. Your granddad, too.”
“Shut up!” Rage pulses through Cam. His grandfather’s only recently died. His grandfather was always kind to John.
John’s eyes move over Cam’s body. “Why are you so short, midget?” He strides forward and shoves Cam’s chest. Cam staggers, almost tumbling back into Ashley and the load of rockweed.
“Midget,” John says. Then he turns and stalks away. In a minute he has disappeared among the trees.
Cam stares at the spot where John had stood. He feels sick.
“Woof!” Mick leans into Cam and licks his knees. He brushes his tail against Cam’s legs.
“What the heck was that about, Mick?” Cam bends to stroke his pet. “John ignored you, boy, didn’t he?”
Cam ruffles Mick’s fur behind the ears, but he feels like he’s swallowed one of Wreck Island’s big, grey rocks. Their dads had a flight—that’s why John didn’t reply to his texts. Cam had assumed the phone coverage was poor at John’s camp. But he should have known there was a problem.
Everything’s about money now—the lack of it. The fight must have happened before his dad left for Toronto. That was six weeks ago. John’s been angry all this time. He’s been hanging on to his anger the whole time he was at camp.
Cam pulls out his phone, dials a number and speaks softly. “Kevin,” he says. “I’ve got a load, a good one....Yeah, see you on the beach.”
He tucks the phone inside his pocket and stares at the rockweed. He should be glad because of the money. But he’s furious—with John, and with his dad who’s disappeared off to Toronto and left Cam and his mum with nothing but sadness and bills.
He strides about on the sand, tries to calm down, but his anger feels like a volcano bursting out of his belly. It’s pulsing through him, hot and energetic.
He stops and stares at the calm blue water and the distant outlines of tiny islands. His shoulders slump as the peace begins to seep into him. The splash and ripple of the waves is soothing, but it summons his sadness.
He misses his dad. His father is always at the back of his mind. His dad used to talk about seeing the ghost of a dead pirate on Wreck Island, and now it feels almost like his father is the ghost. Dad’s haunting me. It’s creepy.
Cam looks over his shoulder and sees Kevin ambling down the beach.
“Great load,” Kevin says as he approaches and sees the rockweed.
“Thanks.” Cam forces a grin. “Let’s offload it.” John’s right about the permit.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Nervous,” Kevin says with a patronizing grin.
Cam flushes. Kevin is old, at least 40. He needn’t act like Cam’s a kid. Calm down. The tourists, the food and beauty companies all want seaweed. You’ll soon have enough money to help Mom keep the house.
He grins a better grin this time. Kevin thinks Cam is 16, when he’s only 13. He’s tricked Kevin. I’m small but I’m strong. We can shift this lot quick, and then I’ll go home and eat.