Callie Morgan has long lived choked by the failure of her own lungs, the result of an elusive pulmonary illness that has plagued her since childhood. A childhood marked early by the drowning death of her mother—a death to which Callie was the sole witness. Her father has moved them inland, away from the memories of the California coast her mother loved so much and toward promises of recovery—and the escape of denial—in arid, landlocked air.
But after years of running away, the promise of a life-changing job for her father brings Callie and him back to the coast, to Florida, where Callie’s symptoms miraculously disappear. For once, life seems delightfully normal. But the ocean’s edge offers more than healing air … it holds a magnetic pull, drawing Callie closer and closer to the chilly, watery embrace that claimed her mother. Returned to the ocean, Callie comes of age and comes into a family destiny that holds generations of secrets and very few happy endings.
Tell Me More: “Till human voices wake us/and we drown,” lilts the oft-quoted poem by T.S. Eliot, and it’s a fitting piece to remember as one begins Kat Rosenfield’s enigmatic second novel. Inland is a tangled and prickly story, much like its protagonist and her family, and worth reading for the language alone, as unpredictable and beautiful as the sea itself.
There are two paths the reader can walk along in this story, and neither of them are completely clear-cut. The first path is easy: Callie’s mother chooses to end her life, leaving a broken-hearted Callie and Mr. Morgan to rebuild their lives far away from the ocean. Callie is a tricky protagonist to get to know, worn old by her lungs failing on her time and time again. She’s defensive and exhausted, a girl who’s never been sure of the person she is or who she wants to be. Losing her mother understandably changes her, and makes Callie wonder if she’s meant for the same fate.
The second path is startling in its ambition: Callie begins to find traces of a family connection to the sea, one that is as magical as it is deadly. Her mother’s sister hints at it, claims to be fulfilled in her choice to be tethered to it. As the story goes on, the few characters in Callie’s life begin to feel more distant, narrowing her world to the draw of the sea. Kat Rosenfield’s lyrical paragraphs capture those magical nuances, almost like old sea shanties in the rhythm of the words. When Callie is away from the sea, the writing style feels drier, more structured, and it highlights the transition of Callie’s own nature from passive acceptance to active searching.
If clear-cut answers are important to you as a reader, Inland may not be the ideal story to pick up, as it never fully answers the various questions it poses. Instead, it asks the reader to draw their own conclusions, hinting that both possibilities could be equally real. Adolescence is hard enough without losing one’s mother–maybe this is Callie’s mind trying to find the “nicer” answer to a difficult question. But the novel does not discount the strange coincidences that tie Callie’s maternal family to the ocean in powerful and deadly ways either, and the dichotomy between the two scenarios is infinitely interesting to consider.
The Final Say: Kat Rosenfield’s sophomore novel is an engaging and provoking tale, with a protagonist who might literally be caught between the land and sea, and may pay for it in the end.
Kat Rosenfield was born and raised in Coxsackie, New York, graduated from New Jersey’s Drew University, and worked as a production assistant, publicist and copywriter in New York City before finding her niche in writing for teenagers. Her first novel, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, was published by Dutton in July 2012.
When not writing fiction, she can be found contributing entertainment news and commentary to MTV’s Hollywood Crush blog and lecturing on proper flirting techniques on Barnes & Noble’s SparkLife.