Thirteen-year-old Ben Floyd is tired of doing the same old things in the same old neighborhood with kids he’s known forever.
Plus he has a few things to work out. Is his friend, Cass, a friend who’s a girl or a girlfriend? Is the fact that his little brother, Cody, idolizes him something to be proud of or just more work? What does it mean to be someone’s hero anyway? Ben needs a vacation. When his aunt and uncle win a Christmas cruise Ben and his family are off to watch their marina in the Florida Keys. This is Ben’s chance to live aboard a boat, swim and snorkel, fish for the big ones, and have some adventures for a change.
Then Mica sails into Bert’s Marina. For an eleven-year-old, and a girl, she is pretty intimidating. Mica, who travels year-round with her biologist father, Robin Delano, swims like a fish, knows the names of all the wildlife (both common and Latin), and dives fearlessly from the top of the mast of her sailboat.
Despite — or because of — dealing with the difficult Mica, Ben and Cody have the time of their lives. They find treasure, fish for giant tarpon, and get blown out to sea. Along the way Ben learns more than just how to snorkel. After trying a little of each, he figures out the difference between being heroic and being dumb — they’re not as different as he had thought. And along the way he decides what to do about Cass.
My Brother’s Hero is the third book in the series set in the same neighborhood. The first is Crossing Jordan, the second is Anna Casey’s Place in the World. The good news is that you can read one without reading them all and still understand them. The better news is, that if you like the kids you meet in one book all you have to do to spend time with them again is pick up another one of the titles.
Where did the story idea come from?
This story began with a setting I knew well: the Florida Keys. For the fifteen years before we moved to Tallahassee, my husband, daughter and I lived there. For six of those years the three of us—plus a brown dog named Lena Bean, a guinea pig named Wootson, and a tortoiseshell cat named Mewise—lived aboard an old wooden cruiser that docked at a place exactly like Bert’s Marina. It was too good a setting to waste!
I wrote “My Brother’s Hero” right after 9/11 when the word of “hero” was being thrown around by everyone. I started thinking about what the word means in American culture and realized that although we had true heroes on September 11th, what we usually mean when we say “hero” is superhero; guys like Spider Man, Batman, and the kind of tough characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I wanted to show that what “saves the day” is not often the lone guy doing something dangerous; “saving the day” usually involves cooperation, planning, and luck.
The real “Bert’s Marina” went by the name of “Plantation Key Marina” when my family lived there. The marina belonged to a couple named Dick and Barbara. Like Uncle Bert, Dick couldn’t stand to throw out any engine part that might later be “useful”—which was any part he took off anything.
All the wildlife you encounter in the book, including the cranky Great Blue Heron, Slip-In-Easy, are real. They were our neighbors when we lived on our boat. Like the Delanos, we kept aquariums filled with live specimens. In those tanks was anything we could dip up with a net or catch on a hair hook: anemones, seahorses, sponges, grunts. We also had a box on the deck of the boat where my daughter Josie put the dead things that washed up. They were too interesting not to keep, and too stinky to bring inside the boat. Josie called the box “The place things went go to stink to themselves.”
The character of Mica is based on a remarkable girl who lived aboard the boat that was docked behind ours. The daredevil dives Mica makes from the top of the mast were routine for this girl. She started every day with one. As soon as she surfaced she’d invite my daughter to do the same. Josie, who was younger, and not quite as bold, always said no. Ben does too—at first.