Red Kayak Summary

Priscilla Cummings

Red Kayak

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Red Kayak Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings.

Priscilla Cummings’ The Red Kayak is narrated by 13-year-old Brady Parks as he investigates the disappearance of his neighbors. The story takes place in Maryland, in the region abutting Chesapeake Bay, home to Brady and his two best friends, Diggers and J.T. The three are fond of catching oysters and crabs, until Diggers and J.T. have a falling out, which is a source of great distress for Brady.

Things become even more complicated for Brady when Diggers has to move away. Brady and Diggers had been neighbors for a long time, until the death of Digger’s grandfather, who owned the land. After the passing of Diggers’ grandfather, the land was put up for sale and purchased by another family, the DiAngelos, forcing Diggers’ family to move. Adding insult to injury, the DiAngelos ordered the demolition of the house where Diggers grew up so they can build a mansion in its place. Diggers develops a strong feeling of resentment towards the DiAngelos, blaming them for all the disruptions occurring in his life due to the move.

The turning point of the story happens when, on his way to school, Brady watches as the DiAngelos set out on their red kayak towards the Corsica River. It occurs to Brady that current weather conditions might be unsafe for kayaking and he wonders whether the DiAngelos are aware of the risks. Although he tries, Brady is unable to deliver a warning to the DiAngelos before their setting out.

A few hours later in the day, Brady’s father pulls Brady out of school to inform him that the DiAngelos had been reported missing and to ask for Brady to help him try to find out what happened.

Brady is successfully able to track down Mrs. DiAngelo and her 3-year-old son Ben. They have been seriously injured, apparently from the result of a boat accident, and are barely hanging on to life. Mrs. DiAngelo is hardly responsive. Ben struggles to breathe, but Brady is able to resuscitate him by giving him CPR. Unfortunately, Ben dies the next day as a result of trauma caused by the accident. Nevertheless, the story makes Brady a local celebrity; he is hailed as a hero by the local media, even called in for an interview with the local television station.

Around the same time Brady is being hailed as a hero by the town, it seems that his friends Diggers and J.T. are avoiding him. Brady will soon discover why. He decides to fill up some of his free time by doing work around the house for Mrs. DiAngelo. It is while working in the DiAngelo’s garage that Brady makes a discovery that sheds light on the reason for the recent boat accident: his father’s drill with chips of red paint stuck to it. Brady’s discovery of the drill leads him to suspect that his friend Diggers may have been the one responsible. As he reflects on the situation more, Brady comes to reason that Diggers might have drilled holes into the DiAngelo’s kayak to get revenge on them for forcing him to move.

After further probing, Brady discovers that Diggers did not act alone, but was aided by J.T. Brady is stunned. He does not know the proper way to react. He agonizes over a moral dilemma: whether to keep everything he has learned secret and protect his friends from trouble or to make a report what he has learned to the authorities. Ultimately, Brady decides that it would be wrong to keep what he has learned secret. He realizes that the morally right course of action is to report what he has discovered. And so Brady tells his father about his friends’ involvement in the accident, and he shows his father the holes in the kayak drilled by Diggers and J.T. Brady’s father tells the authorities and Diggers and J.T. go to trial.

Diggers and J.T. are ultimately found guilty but not punished overly severely, which is a source of great relief for Brady.

The primary theme of The Red Kayak is that it is always better that the truth be known, even when the truth hurts or when making the truth known may lead to undesirable consequences for oneself or for one’s loved ones. It is an interesting question for discussion whether the reader would have drawn the same conclusion if, for example, Diggers and J.T. had received a more severe punishment for their actions, say, the death penalty. Would we still draw the same conclusions about whether Brady did the right thing in turning his friends over to the authorities?

Whatever one might say about these more general moral issues, one thing is clear: in The Red Kayak Cummings draws the reader into Brady’s world and takes us on a journey where we really feel what Brady is going through. The reader shares Brady’s sense of confusion and urgency as Brady is pulled from school and told about the disappearance of the DiAngelos. We feel the sting of morbid disappointment as Brady is informed about Ben’s death. And perhaps most importantly, we go through the same doubts and questions about what to do in a situation similar to the one Brady faces.