The Harbormaster's Daughter
by Heidi Jon Schmidt

New American Library, 2012. ISBN 978-0-451-23787-3.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 10/31/2012

Fiction: Mainstream

Teenage girls want to know where they come from and where they're going, but most of all they want to feel that they belong. Those needs follow many women throughout their lives, and they provide richly textured material in the case of Vita Gray, whose mother is murdered when she is three. Author Heidi Jon Schmidt shares this complex drama of identity and loss in the novel, The Harbormaster's Daughter.

Vita knows that her single mother was a "washashore," a woman who came to the fishing village because of the coast's rugged beauty. She learns that her father is a Portuguese fisherman, and a native of Oyster Cove, still living in the town where Vita is being raised by a friend of her mother's who protects her from the facts of the case.

At sixteen, Vita lacks confidence in herself and her talents. She feels rootless. She's isolated by her history that's been kept from her, and outraged when that history is finally revealed.

Her refuge is Mackerel Sky, a local theatre group performing Shakespeare's The Tempest. She understands Miranda far better than the young beauty cast in the role, but during the course of the summer she finds her own beauty and her first love, and discovers that life's events overlap just like the waves crashing against the shore.

How much should we protect children from their history? What do they have a right to know? What will help them move into the self-assured lives we want them to have as adults? Author Heidi Jon Schmidt explores all these questions as she reaches past the action into the hearts and souls of her major characters and a supporting cast filled with life and color. Both Vita and her adoptive mother, LaRee Farnham discover that the truth is almost never black and white. Nevertheless, they keep searching for it in this appealing adventure through the heart wrenching territory of loss and recovery.

Schmidt's themes will appeal to anyone interested in personal growth, the costs of hiding truths, and the process of coming of age. As a former high school and college teacher I've always identified with young adults who are struggling to find themselves and their passions, so I found this a wonderful read. The Harbormaster's Daughter gave me insights into the all the hopes and fears that might run through Vita's head during rehearsals for The Tempest. Those insights will help me with a story I'm writing right now. It also validates the importance of theatre, imagination, and honesty in defining who we are and who we might become.

Heidi Jon Schmidt was born on Staten Island to very young parents and when she had four siblings they moved to a crumbling stone house down a long dirt road where she began writing fiction to make sense of her life. Her first stories were published in The Atlantic while she was at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and when she graduated from Iowa she was offered a year's fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her earlier books are The Rose Thieves, Darling?, and The Bride of Catastrophe, all available in paperback, and her stories have been published in The Atlantic, Grand Street, Agni Review, Yankee, and many other magazines, and anthologized in The O'Henry Awards, Best American Nonrequired Reading, the Grand Street Reader and others. Visit her website.

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