The Fire, The Water and Maudie McGinn

the fire the water and maudie mcginn

Neurodivergent Maudie is ready to spend an amazing summer with her dad, but will she find the courage to tell him a terrible secret about life with her mom and new stepdad? This contemporary novel by the award-winning author of The Someday Birds is a must-read for fans of Leslie Connor and Ali Standish.

Maudie always looks forward to the summers she spends in California with her dad. But this year, she must keep a troubling secret about her home life—one that her mom warned her never to tell. Maudie wants to confide in her dad about her stepdad's anger, but she’s scared.

When a wildfire strikes, Maudie and her dad are forced to evacuate to the beach town where he grew up. It’s another turbulent wave of change. But now, every morning, from their camper, Maudie can see surfers bobbing in the water. She desperately wants to learn, but could she ever be brave enough?

As Maudie navigates unfamiliar waters, she makes friends—and her autism no longer feels like the big deal her mom makes it out to be. But her secret is still threatening to sink her. Will Maudie find the strength to reveal the awful truth—and maybe even find some way to stay with Dad—before summer is over?

336 pages                                  978-0-06-326879-1                               Ages 10-13

Keywords: father/daughter, family secrets, courage, stepfamilies, summer, homeless, autism, ADHD, surfing, physical abuse, father/daughter, neurodivergent, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old


“We'll all be planning that route

We're gonna take real soon

We're waxing down our surfboards

We can't wait for June

We'll all be gone for the summer

We're on surfari to stay

Tell the teacher we're surfin'

Surfin' U.S.A.”

– The Beach Boys (1963)

“Wave after wave. More and more things to accept, to let happen to me. Life has always felt like I’m just a spectator, along for the ride.

When Mom and Ron got married, it was a positive change, in one major way: it solved Mom’s money worries. And it got us out of our sad, shabby, roach-infested apartment, and into Ron’s super luxury condo in a golf resort. Ron loves golf. So now my mom loves golf, too. Whatever Ron likes, she likes. Whatever Ron does, she does.

I hate golf, and I hate that condo. It’s all hard surfaces and sharp corners, marble and glass and something underfoot called terrazzo, which is hard as rock–your teeth jitter and your heels hurt when you walk across it barefoot–and you do not want to fall or hit your head on that floor. Take it from one who knows.

Dad’s cabin in Molinas, on the other hand, is all honey pine woods, sunny windows, and overstuffed chairs you can flop into any way you want. There’s a cast-iron woodstove in the corner, and bookshelves that Dad built himself, with fancy carved animal designs along the top. They’re crammed with dusty books and wooden toys he’s carved for me through the years.

There’s an old record player, a row of scratchy-sounding albums, and Dad’s ukulele, which he’s terrible at playing, to be honest. Soft old quilts made by Grandma Carmen cover the beds. I never got to meet Grandma Carmen because she died around when I was born. But I feel like I know her, because Dad talks about her so fondly.

In front of the stove, you can put your feet up on a sturdy old coffee table Dad built when he was in high school. Dad’s been building things out of wood his whole life. I wish I had something that I loved to do as much as Dad loves to make beautiful things out of wood.

So you see, my Texas life is kind of cold and hard, and my Molinas life is warmer and simpler. Dad doesn’t care how many stuffed animals I put on my bed, or if I sleep with a nightlight, or if I spill milk during dinner, or forget to bring my plate to the sink now and then. He doesn’t shame me for reading picture books, or making blanket forts, even though I’m technically too old for that stuff, at thirteen and a half.

Ohhhh, there are so many reasons why summer at the cabin with Dad is my favorite time. And the very first day of summer at the cabin feels like the best day of the year.”

Meet autistic thirteen-year-old Maudie McGinn. Her parents got pregnant in high school and split up when she was four. Her dad also seems to be neurodivergent. The divorce agreement calls for Maudie to spend the school year with Mom and summers with Dad.

Maudie is no match for Ron, the former semi-pro football player turned auto dealership owner who married Maudie’s self-centered mom. He’s taken on the job of keeping Maudie in line. He’s a horribly abusive pig of a man (to tone down the more colorful descriptions that would more accurately describe this p.o.s. thug). Rather than protect her at-risk daughter, Maudie’s mom has made excuses, and made Maudie promise not to tell anyone about Ron’s physical abuse.

Tragically, this summer begins with one of those big northern California wildfires destroying Dad’s idyllic cabin and workshop. A major woodworking order about to be shipped out–months of Dad’s skilled workmanship–were in the fated workshop.

Suddenly homeless, with nothing more than the car and the clothes on their backs, Dad and Maudie end up in Conwy, the southern California beachside community where Dad grew up. Dad’s childhood friend Naldo is still living there, and he provides them an old camper to live in while Dad seeks to regain his financial footing.

Conwy is where Maudie will meet a bunch of old “silver surfers,” including Etta, a sweet, gray-dreadlocked, famed female surfer, who will teach Maudie her how it’s done. She’ll help Maudie prepare for competing in the youth beginner class of a surfing competition that is part of a summer shindig that’s been happening in Conwy since Dad was a kid.

Maudie will also make a friend her own age. Paddi, who has ADHD, attends a nearby private school for kids with “learning differences.” Paddi’s PhD mom is actually the principal of the school, an educational institution which sure sounds custom-made for Maudie.

Given the physical and verbal abuse Ron has apparently dished out regularly, being trashed by waves is kid’s play for Maudie. It sure feels like Maudie has found her passion, and it is easy to imagine her and Dad together full-time, living in this great coastside town. Could that ever really happen? You can’t help wondering and hoping for a big break for Maudie and Dad (and a few broken bones for Ron).

THE FIRE, THE WATER, AND MAUDIE MCGINN is a first-rate, can’t-put-it-down read for tweens. If nothing else, it’ll certainly be in the hunt for a Schneider Family award. It’ll surely inspire some young readers to beg for surfing lessons.

But more importantly, it’ll also teach tween audiences that some secrets should not be kept, but should be shared with responsible adults. And that makes this engaging tale one that is well-worth adding to collections.

Recommended by;  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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