The Plot: Rosie, 15, and Skate, 16, are left alone in a falling-down Victorian when their dad, a drunk, serves three and a half months for shoplifting. Their cousin Angie moves in to help out. Rosie, the shyer of the two, goes to meetings and hopes that this time her father stays sober. Skate, more cynical, moves in with her boyfriend’s mother while he’s away at college. Together and apart, they try to figure out their lives.
The Good: Rosie and Skate is set at the Jersey Shore during the off-season, after all the tourists (cough MTV’s Jersey Shore crowd cough) go home. The author wisely creates her own towns (Ocean Heights High School, Little Mermaid, Sea Cove) while using recognizable landmarks (“Old Barney” (the Barnegat Lighthouse), Asbury Park Press, Ocean County College). It’s just the right mix of grounded details so that someone like me, who is familiar with the area, knows where it is, but just enough freedom for Baumann to create a geography that works for her story. My favorite part? The train Skate takes to Rutgers to visit her boyfriend, Perry. A handful of you are sitting up straight saying, “New Brunswick isn’t on the North Jersey Coast line.” To which I say, Baumann never says Skate doesn’t change trains.
The real shore is the shore after summer ends, when the crowds and tourists go away, the party ends, life returns. What I love about Baumann’s use of an off-season tourist town is it works as a metaphor for the family. The party: the family great grandparents, that could afford to build a beachfront Victorian complete with butler’s pantry. The party: the drinks that warm and make one glowy and happy and dizzy. The season ends; and now the house is falling down and leaking and full of splinters and decay, the rooms shut up, just like Rosie and Skate’s family has come undone, with a dead mother, a father in jail, grandparents summering in Florida, and the sisters not even living together. The season ends; and getting drunk is not the fun laughs, it’s a father passed out on the sun porch and stealing his child’s summer job money from her sock drawer.
Both sisters have been affected by their father’s drinking, but both deny it. Rosie is shy and lonely and wants friendship and love; both to be loved and to love. She awkwardly tries to connect with a classmate, Nick, who she meets an an Alateen-like meeting. Awkward, because she’s not quite sure what to do, how to balance what she needs with what she wants with what is smart.
Skate (really Olivia, but nicknamed for her skateboarding) is in love with Perry, and Perry loves her, but he is now a freshman at Rutgers. Skate lives with Perry’s mother, an understanding woman who gives the motherless Skate just enough support, love and mothering without overwhelming her or chasing her away. Problem is, Julia is also Perry’s mother and Perry, while professing his love for Skate, calls less and less and visits less and less. Julia is in a tough place, wanting what is best for both Perry and Skate, knowing that what is best may not be what makes them happy. Skate reacts the way she reacted to her father being put in jail: running away. Instead of running back to her home, she runs instead to her boss, Frank. Frank is twenty-one and has a line of girlfriends and it is a credit to Baumann that as the friendship between Skate and Frank deepens I never once thought, “eww” or “oh, she’s just looking for a father figure.”
Together, Rosie and Skate are sisters who know they can always depend on each other whether or not they sleep in the same house. They also learn that sometimes, despite what history has taught them, they can depend on other people.