An ALA Notable Book A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2017
“Striking, enigmatic, and haunting all around.” —Booklist (starred review) “A suspenseful, realistic, finely crafted story exploring friendship, trust, and how we judge others.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle’s novel about a pivotal summer in two girls’ lives explores the convictions we form, the judgments we make, and the values we hold.
The pond is called Quicksand Pond.
It’s a shadowy, hidden place, full of chirping, shrieking, croaking life. It’s where, legend has it, people disappear. It’s where scrappy Terri Carr lives with her no-good family. And it’s where twelve-year-old Jessie Kettel is reluctantly spending her summer vacation.
Jessie meets Terri on a raft out in the water, and the two become fast friends. On Quicksand Pond, Jessie and Terri can be lost to the outside world—lost until they want to be found. But a tragedy that occurred many decades ago has had lingering effects on this sleepy town, and especially on Terri Carr. And the more Jessie learns, the more she begins to question her new friendship—and herself.
Quicksand Pond ONE There was always a lot of stuff when the Kettels traveled. They arrived that July in a car crammed with duffels and backpacks, beach towels and lawn chairs, fishing poles and board games, an outdoor grill, an espresso machine, two laptops, three smartphones, and a pair of high-powered binoculars for watching birdlife.
Their cottage, which was rented, looked sadly unprepared for this wealth of possessions.
“I see a clothesline out back,” Jessie’s father said in the silence after the motor shut down. “Therein lies hidden meaning.”
“What meaning?” asked Jonathan from the rear seat.
Richard Kettel raised his black-rimmed glasses and massaged the tender sides of his nose. “The gods of good housekeeping are angry with us. Our summer palace is not equipped with a dryer.”
“Ha, ha,” said Jonathan. “There are no gods of good housekeeping. Dad made that up, right?” He turned to Jessie beside him, but she looked away.
Their father shook his head. “The washing machine is a relic from the Dark Ages.”
“How do you know?” asked Jonathan.
“I hear voices wailing from the Great Beyond.”
“I hear birds,” Jonathan said, and they all sat still while a flock of bleating seagulls flapped by overhead.
“Looks like the roof is kind of falling off,” Julia observed from the front seat, which she’d occupied, as if by divine right, the whole way from Pittsburgh. “There are chunks of wood all over the lawn.”
“Lawn? Is that what that is?”
“It used to be one,” Jonathan said. “It grew up, that’s all.”
“It grew up. Now I see.” Their father took off his glasses and squinted. “There’s probably no dishwasher, either. What is that thing on the front step?”
Everyone leaned forward. Something with a long neck was sitting outside the door.
“A toilet plunger?” Julia ventured. “That’s what it looks like. And a bucket, I think, off to the side.”
“I hoped I was going blind,” said their father, a high school English teacher with a taste for gallows humor. “I hoped I’d gone mad and was having hallucinations.”
“No,” Julia said, “it’s a plunger. Does that mean . . .”
“Fraud and deceit!” Richard Kettel yanked open the car door. He stepped out unsteadily, as if the ground were the deck of an oceangoing vessel. Well, they were near the sea, Jessie thought. Quite near, though not actually on it. “Rhode Island saltbox,” the listing had read. “Short walk to the beach. Three bedrooms, two baths, bed linens supplied.” They’d rented, sight unseen, for six weeks till the middle of August.
“I see something else!” Jonathan shouted. “Look, over there! I see a dragonfly, or it could be a moth, and now I’m looking at a whole mess of other things. See by the fence? Bugs!”
“Excellent,” said their father from outside the car. “Just what we need.”
At that moment Jessie bolted. She was out of the car in one jump, running away across the overgrown lawn. It wasn’t only that she needed to get away, immediately, though that was certainly true. She’d spied something, a flicker of silvery water coming through tall reeds at the lawn’s far end. She pushed her way through and arrived on a shore. Not the sandy ocean beach she’d expected, but the mud shore of a pond whose waters spread away from her, smooth and blue in the sun.
Cattails grew high all around the edges. Off to her right the pond slipped around a bend, as if more was there to be discovered. Across the way a single snow-white swan fed along a shadowed bank. Jessie let out her breath and for one perfect moment she felt happy. She felt like a swan herself, one that had just flown in from a perilous journey.
She was in a separatist mood that year, her twelfth, and in a state of irritation with everyone around her. She was irritated with her father because he looked at her with skeptical eyes and said things like “May I ask how you came to that conclusion?”
She was at odds with her older sister, Julia, because Julia was so pathetically nice to everyone. Whoever they were, whatever they said, Julia smiled and agreed.
“What is wrong with you?” Jessie demanded. “You didn’t use to be this way.”
“What way?” Julia asked.
“I don’t know. So spineless.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that. It just makes you look ignorant,” Julia replied.
The problem with Jessie’s mother was that she worked night and day at her office in Pittsburgh. And that summer, thanks to their father dragging them off to practically the end of the earth (as Jessie had declared this New England beach town to be), she wouldn’t possibly find time to visit.
“This is not the end of the earth,” Jonathan had said.
“I just meant—”
“There can’t be an end to the earth because the earth is round.”
“I know it’s round!”
“So why did you say . . .”
The trouble with her brother, Jonathan, was that he was six years old.
Jessie watched a second swan arrive to join the first across the pond. Hardly had it landed when a crunch of feet sounded behind her. A body crashed through the reeds. Julia. In all her splendor. Everyone stared at her wherever she went.
“It’s only a pond,” Julia said, coming up to stand beside her sister. “Where’s the sea?”
Jessie pointed. “I think the beach must be down there.”
Julia shaded her eyes. “Looks like miles away. Dad said it would be closer. He should’ve let Mom make the arrangements. He never gets things right.”
Julia was beautiful, everyone said so. She had a heart-shaped face, unblemished skin, and chocolate-brown eyes with thick black lashes that curled up naturally at the ends. She would never in her life need a drop of mascara. A perfect stranger had stopped her on the sidewalk and asked, “Are you a model? . . . No? Well, you should be, my dear.”
“Maybe it’s shorter by the road,” Jessie told her. “The real estate agents said we could walk to it.”
“I think I’ll drive,” Julia said, which was not a boast. She was sixteen and had her license.
Julia didn’t boast about herself. She’d become too polite. She’d thanked the perfect stranger for his compliment. She seemed oblivious to the boys who wolf-whistled on the street. When her computer literacy teacher, Mr. Clarke, invited her to go with him—as a student representative, he said—to a poetry reading upstate, Julia said it was because he admired her poems.
“Are you going to let her go?” Jessie had asked their mother.
“She’ll be mad.”
“She thinks she’s a poet,” Jessie said. “A serious poet.”
Her mother looked amused. “Julia’s new in her skin, so she’s trying things out. She doesn’t fully understand her effect on people.”
“Oh, don’t worry, she understands,” Jessie had informed her. “She understands perfectly well. She just pretends not to.”
Now, standing beside her sister, Jessie felt the pond, too, begin to fall under Julia’s power. Its private gaze shifted from Jessie—short, with thick legs and brown, rabbity hair—to Julia, tall and dark and carelessly perfect.
Jessie picked up a large rock and heaved it into the water. Julia backed up and shrieked. “Why did you do that? I’m drenched! You are so impossible!” She huffed off toward the house.
The pond also seemed to retreat after this. The sun went behind a cloud. The swans rose off the water and flew away. The reeds took on a mean look around the water’s edge and, removing their magical protection of a minute ago, allowed the sound of voices to come through.
“Just as I predicted, there’s no clothes dryer in this house,” Jessie heard her father say. “And of course no dishwasher.”
“There’s a washing machine, though,” Jonathan’s voice piped up cheerfully. “You said there wouldn’t be, and there is, I saw it.”
“What I said was, the washing machine would be from the Dark Ages. But I was wrong.”
“It’s from the French Revolution.”
“What’s the French Revolution?”
“A time of torture and beheadings. A time of madness and despair. A time of . . .”
Jessie stopped listening. Something was floating in the water off to her right. It was a wood platform of some kind. She saw rusted nails and a board’s sawed-off edge. She bent and reached to draw it closer, but the platform bobbed away.
Behind her a car door slammed and the voices of her family broke through again.
Julia: “I can’t get a signal on my cell phone.”
Jonathan: “Let me see.”
“Look. It’s not working.”
“I see one bar. Nope, now it’s gone.”
“Dad! There’s no reception here.”
“Well, call the police.”
“Dad! What are we supposed to do? We’re cut off.”
“I saw something that looked like a telephone pole on the way in, with wires attached.”
“But what about my laptop? It won’t work either! No way there’s Wi-Fi here.”
“Such is life.”
“What do you mean, ‘such is life’? It might be your life, but it’s not mine. I need to be in touch,” Julia said, sounding more like her real self than she had in months.
“Jessie!” her father shouted. When she didn’t answer at once, his voice rose anxiously. “Jessica Kettel, where have you gone?”
When she still didn’t answer—the heavy wooden platform was bobbing closer again—her father cried out in greater alarm.
“Jessie! What’s wrong? Answer me now!”
This time she shouted back. “It’s okay, Dad, I’m right here. I’m coming and I’m perfectly fine.”
When twelve-year-old Jessie and her family arrive at a rented cottage for a New England beach vacation, Jessie is immediately drawn to the freshwater pond nearby—Quicksand Pond—and not to the beach. An old raft and a new friend lead to happy times floating among the reeds, yet shadows from the past are lurking behind the bushes far up onshore.
A crime from long ago still affects the local community, and trouble starts to suck Jessie down into the mire of deceit and prejudice. What happens to Jessie is a turning point in her life, leading to a summer vacation like no other.
1. At the end of the introduction when Terri tells Jessie that she had been watching her and her family, what did you think would happen next? What was the mood or tone of the story at that point?
2. When Jessie first sees the pond, why do you think she feels perfectly happy? Why had she not been feeling happy before this point?
3. Henrietta says that it takes “lightness in both body and mind” to ride a raft. What does she mean by that?
4. How is Henrietta’s mind described? Why is that important to the story?
5. What are the different points of view that the author uses to tell the story? How do these multiple perspectives affect the structure of the story? Why do you think that the author chose to tell the story in this way?
6. Compare Jessie’s, Henrietta’s, and Terri’s relationships with their fathers. How do those relationships affect these characters?
7. Why do you think that Henrietta feels a bond with Terri?
8. Did you think that Terri set the fire? Why or why not?
9. There are varying theories presented in the story for how the garage burned down. How are they similar, and how are they different. Which version is the truth? Did any character stick to the total truth? Discuss the slippery nature of truth.
10. How would Terri have explained what happened when the garage burned down?
11. What do you think happens after Henrietta goes down to the pond at the end of the book? Explain your answer. What evidence in the text supports your prediction?
12. Reread the poem at the beginning of the book. Was this poem a good choice for the beginning of the story? Why or why not?
13. Who are the “captives” in the story? Their dungeons are both metaphorical and real. What are they, and how do the dungeons affect the captives’ actions?
14. Review the map of Quicksand Pond at the beginning of the book. How does the map pull together the plot threads of the story?
15. What are some of the differences between the locals and the summer people? How do these differences affect the friendship between Jessie and Terri?
16. Terri’s situation forces Jessie to think about her family’s prejudices, as well as her own. What is behind their intolerance? Do you think that these views are justified? Think about your own community, or other nearby communities. Do you see any prejudice? How are your observations similar to or different from the prejudices that Jessie has discovered?
17. Describe the moment when Jessie is frightened of Terri. When does that happen? Why is she scared? Connect this with another tense moment that either you have read about or experienced.
18. What are the dynamics of Jessie’s family at the beginning of the story? How about by the end of the story? Did anything change? If so, what was the cause of this shift? Support your answers with evidence from the text.
19. Identify the main characters in the story. Which characters have complexity or development throughout the story? Which ones do you relate to the most? Sympathize with? Support your answers with evidence from the text.
1. The teacher should divide the class into small groups to create book trailers encouraging others to read Quicksand Pond. Then present the trailers to the class. How are the trailers different for each group? What persuasive techniques did each group use in order to convince their audience to read the book? Consider using the following platforms to create your trailer:
3. Examine the map of Quicksand Pond. Identify details on the map. Create a map of a place where you live, or of a place where you went on vacation. Write a short story using the place that you chose as the setting of your story. Be sure to incorporate the details from your map into your story.
Then, look at sample newspapers from the past on http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. Next, the teacher should divide the class into three small groups. Group 1: Create the front page of a local newspaper about the murders and trial from Quicksand Pond. Group 2: Create the front page of a local newspaper that would have been written if the police had interviewed Henrietta at the time. Group 3: Create the front page of the newspaper that would have been written after the police interviewed Miss Cutting at the end of the story.
Share the newspaper articles with your class.
5. Research the history of rafts. What other works of literature feature rafts? Have there been any famous journeys using rafts? Present your findings to your class in a multimedia slide show.
Guide prepared by Margaret Tice, Head Librarian at Magen David Yeshivah Elementary School, Brooklyn, NY, and Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Janet Taylor Lisle’s books for young readers have received the Newbery Honor Award (Afternoon of the Elves), the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction (The Art of Keeping Cool), Holland’s Zilveren Griffel, and Italy’s Premio Andersen Award, among other honors. A graduate of Smith College and former journalist, Janet lives in Rhode Island and often draws on Rhode Island history in her work. Visit her online at JanetTaylorLisle.com.
"One false accusation, tossed like a stone into a pond, creates a ripple effect that damages a family for generations. This story, so beautifully and tenderly told, will wrap you in its wings from the first page to the last. Don’t expect the flight to be smooth.”
– Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Underneath
*STARRED REVIEW* "Deftly navigating a diverse array of socioeconomic statuses and the discriminatory nature of the justice system, Newbery Honor-winner Lisle crafts a stirring story that raises crucial questions about the assumptions we make, the distances we keep, and the vulnerable voices we often fail to hear. As Lisle details Terri's determination to cease a vicious cycle, Henrietta's resolve to remedy an unjust past, and Jessie's aching ambivalence between the cautionary advice of others and her own hard-won revelations, readers are sure to listen. Striking, enigmatic, and haunting all around."
– Booklist, February 2017, starred review
*STARRED REVIEW* "A summer beside Quicksand Pond on Rhode Island's coast transforms a reluctant 12-year-old.... Unfolding slowly in simple, quiet prose, this sensitive, compelling story alternates between Jessie's present experiences and Henrietta's befuddled memories until they collide in a disturbing, pivotal climax. A suspenseful, realistic, finely crafted story exploring friendship, trust, and how we judge others."
– Kirkus Reviews, March 2017, starred review
– The Wall Street Journal, May 13-14
"The author’s writing, as always, is filled with rich imagery and atmospheric descriptions. Readers will come away feeling as if they have visited the locale themselves. VERDICT: This complex tale is aptly bittersweet and invites reflection about justice, judgment, and loyalty. A strong purchase for fans of layered, realistic mysteries and drama."
– School Library Journal, March 2017
"Lisle deftly balances the stories of Jessie’s coming of age, Terri’s downward spiral, and the truth behind the murder; the eventual coalescence of the three involves a simple but surprising twist, leaving readers with a compelling, but still melancholy, ending. The girls’ relationship is realistic in its ups and downs, with Jessie initially craving the attention of her coolly aloof new friend and then Terri desperately clinging to Jessie as things go awry. The focus occasionally shifts from the girls to the old woman who was involved in the long-ago crime, and her perspective gives the story both an air of mystery and an element of aching sorrow. A tale of how one summer, one person, or one event can forever change the direction of a life, this will appeal to readers who prefer their beach reads thoughtful rather than frothy."
– The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, March 2017
"Echoing the themes and tone of Lisle’s Newbery Honor–winning Afternoon of the Elves, this loss-of-innocence novel traces the delicate friendship built between two girls from different backgrounds.... With characteristic subtlety and enormous compassion, Lisle expresses complex family and social conflicts while showing how Jessie’s understanding of the world and her newfound friend expand, even as the views of those around her remain narrow. Terri’s struggle against oppression and prejudice will have as profound an impact on readers as it does on Jessie."
– Publishers Weekly, March 2017
“Provides a realistic view of social differences and cultural perceptions, serving as a foundation for deep discussions about their influences on individuals. The book will appeal to curriculum needs and those seeking a fun adventure. Recommended.”
– School Library Connection, August/September 2017
"Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle (Newbery Honor Book Afternoon of the Elves; The Art of Keeping Cool) is a beautiful, realistic story about trust, self-doubt and judgment."