Fiction Fest: More from Anola Pickett’s ‘Whisper Island’

Whisper Island 2x3“I loved everything about this book!” wrote one reviewer of Anola Pickett’s “Whisper Island,” which was officially released on July 9, 2013.

“Whisper Island” centers on 12-year-old Primmy Hopkins and her desire to join the U.S. Life-Saving Service when she grows up. Great aspirations, but the USLSS doesn’t allow women to join its ranks. The story takes place on a fictional island in North Carolina in 1913.

“The first time I visited the Outer Banks, I learned about the work of the [USLSS] and was impressed with their bravery,” said Pickett. “When I learned that women were not allowed to [join], I knew I had a problem for a spunky girl to overcome. I named her Primrose Estella and gave her a personality completely unlike her fancy name. She’s just plain Primmy and she’s determined to do something important and courageous.”

“Whisper Island” is available in bookstores and on,, and


Primmy’s mother, Rose Alene, left Whisper Island when Primmy was just three. After hearing nothing from her mother other than a few postcards over the years, Primmy receives an invitation to visit Rose Alene in a fancy hotel across the Sound. After an unsettling boat trip and an awkward meeting, the two go to dinner in the hotel dining room.

While we wait for our food, my mother starts a conversation.

“Tell me all about yourself. Do you have a special beau?”

A beau? “I only just turned twelve today.”

“It’s never too soon to start thinking about settling down with someone special. Someone who will take care of you and give you fine things.”

“I plan to take care of myself.”

She gives out a high, silly laugh. “Oh, Primrose, you’ll change your mind about that soon enough.”

“Nope. I’m going to be a surfman like Pa.”

Her laugh irritates me. “You know that can’t happen! Girls aren’t meant to do such hard work.”

“It’s hard,” I agree, “but it’s important.”

“Of course it is, but so is living a beautiful, happy life.”

“Pa and me and my brothers–we all have a happy life and–“

“Primrose, I know all about that life. I should think you’d want something better for yourself.”

Before I can answer, Titus comes up carrying a tray loaded with bread and two bowls of brown water. He puts a bowl in front of my mother. I get the other one.

“Oh, good. Bouillon! My favorite.” She puts her napkin in her lap.

I do the same. I stare at the stuff. Too thin for gravy. Too hot to drink. I wait.

She picks up a big spoon and nods toward my plate.

That’s when I notice that it’s surrounded by enough eating tools for a whole family—spoons, forks, even two kinds of knives. Why on earth would a person need all that for one meal? Seems foolish, but I say nothing. This must be how fancy people do things.

She dips her spoon in the bowl and brings it to her mouth. I do the same. I can’t taste much but salt and—

“Primrose! Don’t slurp! Dip the spoon away from you! Sip!” she whispers at me from behind her napkin.

I scoot down in my chair. My cheeks burn. I stare at the salty brown water.

“Finished?” Titus points at my bowl.

I nod.

He replaces it with a little plate of lettuce and sliced tomatoes.

“Cut up the lettuce before you put it in your mouth,” my mother warns me.

She gives orders all the way through the meal. When I pick up the piece of fried chicken, she gasps loud enough to turn every head in the room. “What are you doing? You never, ever eat with your fingers!”

I slouch so slow that I’m about to slide onto the floor.

“Sit up straight. For heaven’s sake, act like a lady. You’re embarrassing me!”

I’m embarrassing her? I sit up and twist my napkin into a knot.