Alice and her parents go to Florida for one week, every year--the week of Alice's birthday. They stay in the same place every time, and Alice feels that the people in the neighboring cottages--old Mr. Barden, the Wishmeiers--are part of her family. The year Alice turns ten, though, everything is a little strange. One of the neighbors can't make it from New York, the Wishmeier's grandchildren aren'ts coming, and Aunt Kate (who isn't really her aunt, but her mother's best friend) brings along her new boyfriend, and her boyfriend's very sad 6-year old girl. Alice tries to focus on the good--her search for the rare junonia seashell, Mr. Wishmeier's stories, the cottage, the sea. But ten is a very important birthday, and it's hard to forget all the things that are going wrong.
This is a very quiet book. It's introspective; we spend our time in Alice's head, and Alice is a quiet, thoughtful girl. The type of child that people always say, "plays so well by herself". There are no catastrophes, just spilled milk and small slights, but of course, to Alice they feel disastrous, and I think that this is a book for a very particular type of child: a child like Alice. Not a book that every child, or even most children, would love. It is, however, gorgeous in a lot of ways. The writing is smooth and rhythmic, and the book itself--the weight of the pages, the illustrations, the sea-blue of the pictures--is lovely.