It’s no surprise to the many devoted fans of Mary Alice Monroe’s novels that her latest trilogy brings to light the plight of a beloved species. She’s known for her ability to expertly intertwine the human stories in her work, revealing connections and familiarities between the characters and the natural world in ways that almost seem magical. This summer, the highly anticipated final novel in her Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, “The Summer’s End,” hits shelves and hearts, with a call to arms on behalf of the bottlenose dolphin.
“It’s written to be a standalone novel,” Monroe explained. “Anyone who picks it up will fully enjoy the characters and follow all the storylines, whether they’ve read the previous novels.”
Every novel Monroe has published in the last decade has been rooted in the natural world of her surroundings in Charleston, South Carolina. The latest trilogy focuses on three estranged half-sisters (Harper, Carson and Eudora) spending a final summer at their grandmother’s seaside home. A wild dolphin they name Delphine serves as the trilogy’s keystone, and all of their lives are changed by this creature.
“My greatest hope is that readers become involved with my characters and enjoy a great story,” she said. “Then, when they close the book, realize that they’ve learned a lot about this important sentinel species.”
Characteristic of her creative process, Monroe worked with researchers through the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in Charleston and volunteered at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. There, she participated in the study on a floating “doctor’s clinic” that ran a battery of medical tests on dolphins.
“I wanted to write a novel about the dolphin because we connect with that knowing, beguiling smile,” she said. “Dolphins are an exceptional and beloved species that excel in communication; have strong family and community bonds; and live in the present.
“But the impetus for me I think to write this series now is the hard fact that 48 to 52 percent of the wild dolphins in South Carolina and Florida are sick,” Monroe said.
“Coupled with the morbillivirus striking along the coast, it’s an alarming situation.”
The morbillivirus that killed a record number of dolphins along the mid-Atlantic coast last summer is spreading southward as dolphins migrate down the coast. This measles-like virus killed 753 dolphins in 2013 from New York to South Carolina. More than 10,000 dolphins are thought to roam the Southeast, and the numbers in South Carolina and Georgia are estimated between 6,000 and 7,000.
This year, the migrating dolphins could carry the infection as far south as Florida.
“Through my research, I learned there are three major issues facing dolphins that needed attention: feeding of wild dolphins, water quality and injuries,” she said. “I had to create a strong trilogy to carry through all the themes.”
Perhaps one of the characteristics fans admire most about the author is her sincerity. Monroe’s words ring true and hit the mark best, because her efforts extend far beyond pen and paper. She is an active conservationist and serves on the Board of the South Carolina Aquarium, the Leatherback Trust and Charleston Volunteers for Literacy.
Monroe is also a volunteer at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida and works with programs designed for special needs children and the Wounded Warrior Project. Her dedication to conservation has always been present in her life. She has worked as a 14-year licensed sea turtle team member (“The Beach House” trilogy) in South Carolina. She raises monarch butterflies (“The Butterfly’s Daughter”), and has volunteered at the Center for Birds of Prey (“Skyward”).
“I’m a storyteller,” she said. “I don’t tell or teach as much as create a story world that establishes a meaningful relationship with the animals and with nature to make readers aware through the power of story.”
To learn more about “The Summer Wind” and other Mary Alice Monroe books, visit her on Facebook and at www.maryalicemonroe.com. ■