Cover image for The Willoughby spit wonder
The Willoughby spit wonder
Fuqua, Jonathon Scott.
Personal Author:
First edition 2004.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
145 pages ; 20 cm
In 1950s Norfolk, Virginia, as Carter and his sister watch their dying father struggle to remain cheerful, Carter decides to emulate Prince Namor, comic superhero, in order to inspire his father to stay alive.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.8 3.0 77524.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In a poignant story of a family struggling against loss -- and a boy who would be a superhero -- Jonathon Scott Fuqua evokes, in rich detail, the long-ago era of the 1950s. He looked at her. "Minnie, have you ever wondered if maybe Mom's from Atlantis? We've only seen her parents twice, ever, and her dad looked funny and had to breathe out of that mask. See what I mean? Have you ever thought of that?" It's 1953 and the Korean War is over, but Carter Johnston loves to watch the navy bombers come and go, their great gray bodies skimming the waters of Chesapeake Bay as they guard against the Communist threat. With his family facing a threat of a different kind, Carter dreams of being a superhero. Could he be like the Sub-Mariner, and become the Boy Who Swam Across Hampton Roads, the Willoughby Spit Wonder? Carter's sister, Minnie, says he'll get himself killed, but Carter needs to show their ailing father that success comes to those who try. If his dad wants to stay alive as badly as Carter wants to be like the Sub-Mariner, it can happen. Can't it?

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6-8. Carterohnston's father is dying, and in order to give him the will to live, Carter thinks that he needs to perform a heroic act worthy of the superheroes he reads about in his comic books. When his father's condition worsens, Carter tries to swim across the bay near his home in Norfolk, Virginia. As he battles huge waves and rip tides, stirred up by an approaching hurricane, Carter comes to understand the lessons of life and death that his father has been trying to teach him all along. Fuqua nicely captures the setting, near a naval base, and the time period--the height of the cold war. Carter, himself, is a compelling character, and his growing understanding and acceptance of the world is shown quietly through an array of accurately observed details. A subtle, engaging novel. --Todd Morning Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fuqua's (The Reappearance of Sam Webber) tender and poignant story takes place in a small Virginia town in 1953, as the Korean War comes to an end and tragedy looms on the horizon for one family. Carter Johnston, raised on a steady diet of comic books, idolizes superhero Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and secretly believes that his mother comes from the underwater city of Atlantis. His father encourages these fantasies: "That's the kind of high-minded daydreaming I always respected," he tells Carter. "You reach and reach and enjoy the reaching, because it's all there is." Mr. Johnston is fighting an unnamed disease and gradually losing his strength; in the summer heat, he begins sleeping in the town's car dealership, one of the few buildings with air conditioning. Carter and his older sister, Minnie, witness their father's deterioration, and they struggle to maintain the hope that he will get better. In desperation, Carter tries to swim an impossible distance to prove to his father that "if you want something bad enough, it'll happen" and, heartbreakingly, learns that desire isn't always enough. Fuqua goes to great length exploring both Carter's devotion to his father and Carter's soul-deep sadness. At the end he grants the characters not happiness but wisdom, a satisfying ending for a quiet and well-wrought book. Ages 10-13. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Carter Johnston lives on Willoughby Spit Beach in Virginia in 1953. His deepest wish is to be like his comic-book superhero, Prince Namor, who can breathe underwater (his mother is from Atlantis). The boy clings to the belief that his mother is also from Atlantis, and that he could do the same if he just tried hard enough. Carter thinks his father, who is slowly dying from a mysterious illness, has given up on living. He feels sure that if he can swim across the bay, he will prove to Dad that it's possible to beat overwhelming odds. When the man's condition worsens, Carter rushes to the beach and dives into the ocean during a crushing hurricane. He somehow survives the crashing waves by treading water (his rescuers dub him the Willoughby Spit Wonder), and emerges with a deeper understanding of both himself and his father, finally realizing that the man has been struggling to stay alive for a long time. Fuqua weaves in historical information on the Korean War, McCarthyism, and communism in a coherent and flowing manner. Though Carter's survival of a raging storm may strain credulity, early foreshadowing sets up this climactic scene. Deft touches of humor occasionally lighten the mood, and vivid details create a strong sense of time and place. Carter's growth from an impulsive boy to a thoughtful young man is evident in this well-written story.-James K. Irwin, Nichols Library, Naperville, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



They sat down and stared out beyond the waves to a battleship bristling with big cannons, guns, and radar. Carter said, "The Sub-Mariner used to bend back cannons like those so that they wouldn't fire right. When the stupid Nazis went and tried, the ones he'd bent exploded at the tip." Minnie muttered, "Carter, the Sub-Mariner didn't used to do anything. He's not real." "He used to in old stories." She threw her hands in the air. "Wish I could fly out there and bend the guns on that ship. You know?" He glanced over at his sister, who seemed to have decided a long time ago that her brother was a total bonehead. "Think about this, Minnie. Namor was the son of a regular man. Namor's mom was Princess Fen of Atlantis. I guess she was stronger than his father, and so she must have lived longer. I thought about it last night. It's kind of like Mom living longer than Dad. You know?" "Don't talk about Dad dying, okay?" The situation rattled through Carter's intestines. He hadn't really meant to talk about death at all. What he'd wanted to do was explain how similar things were between Prince Namor and himself. "Okay." "We're not in comic books." "I know. But just because we aren't doesn't mean we might not be special or something. We might change one day when we get older and figure out we have superstrength or know how to fly." "I am older, and we're not special. I already know." "I don't think you do." "Carter," she said, "sometimes you make me worry." "I never make myself worry. You know what? One afternoon, just to prove to you I'm like Namor, I'll swim clear to Hampton. And when I get over there, I'm going to wait for you guys at the Chamberlain Hotel. You know they'd treat me like a movie star. I'd be the Boy Who Swam Across Hampton Roads. They'd probably give me all the Coca-Cola I could drink." Excerpted from The Willoughby Spit Wonder by Jonathon Scott Fuqua All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.