Mary Katherine Burns is nine when split level homes are built across the street from her own historically significant house. Katie is an only child and generally alone so she is thrilled to discover that a girl her own age is moving in across the street. Misty and her glamorous, unconventional mother Mo are a whole different breed of people from Katie and her mother Cleva. As Katie and Misty become best friends, Katie is drawn into the intriguing life she sees being lived across from her. The only outrageous and unusual thing in her own life is Cousin Angela, the cousin who wafts in and out of the Burns' lives, disapproved of by Cleva and sometimes secretly, sometimes publicly abetted by Katie's beloved father Fred. Katie is a watchful girl and as she grows, she learns to see that the facade we present to others is just that, a facade. Her greatest desire is a more glamorous life but when something big and irreversible happens one July 4th, she sees beyond her childish romanticized view of others' lives to the turmoil and unhappiness beneath. It is a lesson she won't forget as she continues to see snatches of bald realism that alter the superficial view, especially with Merle, the boy who once tormented her, and Perry, the beautiful, victimized girl who was to marry Merle's brother.
Katie is awkward and embarrassed as only a shy girl can be. Her world is safe and circumscribed but it cannot stay that way, because life is not safe and circumscribed. Secrets have a way of being exposed, surfacing unwelcomed and unwanted; truth and honesty win out. McCorkle does the small moments, the everyday, interrupted by unusual upheaval so well. She beautifully captures the minutia that makes up our days. But she also captures the ruptures and chasms that spin us around to face another way entirely. Her characters are people we all know. The 1970s small Southern town setting is exquisitely rendered and her characters are true to the time period in both their reactions and beliefs. The malapropisms in one character's speech are hilarious, adding some poignancy but also levity to a story filled with the small and large tragedies of regular life. The pacing is slow, deliberate, and contemplative. It is a coming of age story paced at life's own measure. Like an exquisitely rendered miniature rather than a huge sweeping canvas, attention to detail is everything here. Ferris Beach is definitely more for people who enjoy and appreciate character driven stories than those who want a cracking, fast-paced plot to follow.