By Shelley Hill Young
Author Mary Alice Monroe joined the Island Turtle Team on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island soon after she moved to Charleston in 1998 to do research for a book. She didn’t realize it would be a life-changing experience.
Mary Alice would go on to write a best-selling series of books about a family’s beach house on Isle of Palms and the turtles that come to shore to nest. But more importantly, the members of the turtle team became some of her closest girlfriends, the support system that is essential for every woman’s well-being.
The women on the turtle team sit on the beach at night waiting for the sand to move to indicate the turtle eggs are about to hatch and the baby turtles are ready to make their way to the open water. While the women wait, they share stories.
“We all know about each other’s lives,” Mary Alice says. “It’s more than just taking care of the turtles. We take care of each other. It’s a way women bond.”
Mary Alice was first interested in sea turtles when one of her sisters, who lives in Florida, told her that sea turtles appear to have tears in their eyes when they lay their eggs. The turtles are actually secreting salt water, but it is a beautiful metaphor that Mary Alice wanted to use as a basis of a book.
She wanted to write entertaining stories that people would read on the beach, but she also wanted to send a message about the importance of caring for the natural world.
“If you tell the story with emotion, the readers then care about the species,” Mary Alice says. “And if they care, they take care. I just think that’s the bottom line.”
Mary Alice says she’s always been willing to roll up her sleeves and volunteer to get up close and personal with her subject matter.
“I got so involved with the sea turtles that it changed my life, and it changed the way I wrote novels,” she says.
In her “Beach House” series of books about the Rutledge family and the beach house where they share so many memories, women bond over their work on the turtle team. The latest book, “Beach House Reunion,” released in May, explores the theme of returning home, just as the sea turtles return to the same place to nest year after year.
Toward the end of the book, when the women have gathered at the beach house, Mary Alice writes: “They did what women have done since the days of hunters and gatherers. They shared their stories, their fears and triumphs, finding both solace and support in the process.”
“Beach House Reunion”
Mary Alice Monroe is a New York Times best-selling author of more than 12 novels, including “The Beach House,” “Beach House Memories” and “Beach House for Rent.” In her most recent novel, “Beach House Reunion,” two generations of women find the strength, love and commitment to break destructive family patterns and forge new bonds that will endure long beyond one summer reunion.