Blind blessings in The Cay

The Cay by Theodore Taylor; a Dell Yearling Book, New York, 1969; 137 pages.

Phillip Enright is nearly 12 years old as the story begins.  His father is working for a petroleum refinery in Curacao in 1942, which is how Phillip and his mother came to live on the island.  As World War II impinges on their island paradise, Phillip and his friends are anxious for a chance to stop playing war and get to see the war.  His mother panics with German submarines offshore and insists that Phillip’s father make preparations to get her and their son back to Virginia.  What a fateful decision for Phillip!  Their escape ship is sunk by the Germans and Phillip is rescued by Timothy, an old sailor from the West Indies.  A blow on the head has blinded Phillip (physically and metaphorically) and Timothy cares for him from raft to desserted island, even teaching the boy to care for himself in case he is left alone.  Blindness is a blessing for Phillip as he overcomes prejudice and pride.  After the gentle, loving Timothy dies, Phillip is rescued but sees the world through new eyes.

I was touched by the bond that develops between the old man and the boy.  Taylor is straightforward and matter-of-fact in the development of Phillip’s new perspective on the world.  Although it is not a melodramatic story, there is drama and heart in the tale.  No wonder it won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

It was my daughter who insisted that I read this book because she had been so moved by it during her sixth grade language arts class.  I am grateful for her persistance and insistence!  How did I miss this one?!  The story of overcoming self-limitations and stereotypes should be required reading in all middle schools.  The phonetically spelled vernacular of Timothy’s speech may be difficult for some teens to get used to, so discussion about the dialect is important to understand and fully appreciate the story.  In addition, although the protagonist is a 12 year old boy, I think the survival story as well as the coming of age aspect is appropriate for a wider range of teens.

3P     5Q     Grade Level: 6-9

cayCover Art: Timothy and Phillip are lashed to a tree as a wave barrels toward them; pretty exciting stuff!  The font of the title reflects the Caribbean setting of the story.  Unfortunately, the clothing is somewhat dated and may detract from the interest of the depicted scene.  I think this book would have to be required reading to generate any interest or word-of-mouth promotion.  The white title on a black spine was easy to locate on the shelves.

Suggested Reading List: Survival in Love, War or Sports

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