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Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay Island, angry Louise reveals how Caroline has robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampers Caroline, Wheeze (her sister's name for her) begins to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who has mysteriously returned after fifty years.
The war unexpectedly gives this independent girl a chance to fulfill her dream to work on the water alongside her father. But the dream does not satisfy the woman she is becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise begins to fight her way to a place for herself outside her sister's shadow. But in order to do that, she must first figure out who she is.