Red Kayak Summary and Study Guide

Priscilla Cummings

Red Kayak

  • 60-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 28 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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Red Kayak Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 60-page guide for “Red Kayak” by Priscilla Cummings includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 28 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Ongoing Influence of the Past on the Present and The Complex Nature of Moral Responsibility.

Plot Summary

The Red Kayak is a coming-of-age story set near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Thirteen-year-old Braden Parks (“Brady”) lives along the Corsica River with his mother and father and makes his living fishing for crabs and repairing boats. The town where the novel primarily takes place—Bailey’s Wharf—is undergoing major changes as the story begins; historically home mostly to working-class families like the Parks, the town is now attracting wealthier residents like the Parks’ new neighbors, the DiAngelos. The local environment is also shifting, with a decline in the crab population threatening the Parks’ livelihood.

The novel covers roughly six months of Brady’s life, but the nature of the story necessitates frequent flashbacks to earlier events. In fact, The Red Kayak opens in the fall of Brady’s ninth-gradeyear before jumping back to an incident that took place during the previous spring: the sinking of the DiAngelos’ red kayak which caused the death of their toddler son, Ben.

Narrating the story himself, Brady recalls how he’d been waiting for a ride to school one cold morning in April, accompanied by his friends Digger and J.T. The three boys saw a red kayak heading out onto the river and—despite the bad weather—neglected to call out any kind of warning. Brady quickly comes to regret this decision when he learns later the same day that the kayak has gone missing, and that Mrs. DiAngelo and her son Ben were on board. Having babysat for the DiAngelos in the past, Brady is eager to help in the search effortsand does ultimately find and resuscitate Ben. The very next day, however, Brady learns that Ben died at the hospital.

Brady finds it difficult to move on from Ben’s death, not least because J.T. and Digger begin to avoid him soon after the accident. Preoccupied, Brady does not see this for the sign of guilt that it is, instead focusing on helping out Mrs. DiAngelo by doing yard work.

The job lifts both Brady and Mrs. DiAngelo’s spirits, and things seem to be improving for a few weeks. Eventually, however, Brady finds a drill with red paint on it while cleaning the DiAngelos’ boathouse, and he pieces together what must have happened: Digger, angry at the DiAngelos for buying his family’s old property, took Brady up on his suggestion to pull a prank on Mr. DiAngelo by drilling holes in the kayak. Brady confronts both his friends, who ultimately admit his suspicions are correct.What’s more, J.T. helped Digger by standing watch.

The discovery of the drill sends Brady into a moral crisis. He does not want to turn his friends in or cause legal and financial problems for his own family, but he also recognizes that J.T. and Digger’s actions killed someone (albeit unintentionally). Ultimately, he decides to toss the incriminating drill in the river, but he regrets his decision almost immediately. When Mr. Parks decides not to participate in a watermen’s strike despite facing considerable pressure from his fellow crabbers to do so, it heightens Brady’s resolve to come forward with the truth. With his father’s help, he recovers the red kayak from the Corsica River, and then goes to a lawyer and the police with his story.

As a result of Brady’s actions, J.T. and Digger end up in juvenile court, where they face second-degree murder charges. Brady expects that he will need to testify against his friends, since Digger in particular had insisted that he would never confess to the role he played in causing the accident. On the day of the trial, however, Brady learns that both Digger and J.T. have decided to plead guilty. After a series of statements from the DiAngelos, the boys’ lawyers, and the boys themselves, the judge sentences J.T. and Digger to a minimum of nine months working in a forestry camp.

Back in the present day, Brady fills us in on what has happened since the trial. The DiAngelos have moved away, but are expecting a new child. Brady has not heard from Digger and J.T. since the day of the trial, but he thinks about them often, and there are signs that the friends may one day be able to reconcile; J.T.’s sister Kate says that her brother is planning on writing to Brady. Although it is clear from his words in the novel’s first chapter that Brady is not (and never will be) entirely over Ben’s death and the role he inadvertently played in it, his story ends on a hopeful note; the Parks are closer as a family than ever, and Brady has finally overcome his grief and guilt enough to return to the river that he loves.

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Chapters 1–3