- Virginia Johnson
Storms batter the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Always have. Always will. Ships break up in those dangerous seas. Sometimes there are survivors but oftentimes not. It’s 1898, and waiting and watching are the surfmen—the rescuers of the Lifesaving Service—who take out boats in horrible weather and try to save whom they can. In Teetoncey, by Theodore Taylor, twelve-year-old Ben O’Neal is determined to become a surfman, leaving his mother’s storm-swaying house on a terrible night to go help at the Rescue Station. He’s seen the flare, and he knows—there’s a ship in trouble.
Out in the ocean, the Malta Express has snapped in two on a sandbar. In the dining room, the oil lamps splatter and shoot flame up the wooden walls as passengers look for an escape. As the captain shouts orders, the winds howl, and the sea batters the ship to pieces, one thing is clear. This ship is going down.
Soon after while combing the beach for survivors, Ben’s dog lets him know there’s something—someone—worth investigating. The young girl looks like she’s gone with the rest, her face blue with bruises from hitting the bottom of the ocean over and over again. But she’s not quite lost, and he and his mother, they will try to save her, whoever she is. Such a small thing. She can’t speak and can’t tell her name, so they gift her with one of their own Banker words. Teetoncey. It means small, and it suits her. She is small and fragile, yes, but the girl, who is about Ben’s age, has survived though barely so.
Theodore Taylor is famous for another book about castaways called The Cay. Teetoncey, the first book of the Cape Hatteras Trilogy, is also amazingly well-written. The words draw readers back to another place and time and into the mind of Ben O’Neal, a hard-headed boy who, regardless of the danger, dreams of a life on the waves.