Set in the 1940's and in the middle of German submarine attacks, The Cay is about a family who lives on the island of Curacao (near Aruba). Phillip Enright is an 11 year old boy whose ship is torpedoed as he and his mother attempt to escape the violence to America. Separated from other survivors, Phillip is stranded on a life raft with a cat and Timothy, a black sailor from the West Indies. Thanks to Timothy's years of experience, they manage to survive drifting in the open sea and on a deserted island (the cay). Even when Phillip's head injury from the torpedo causes him to go blind, Timothy guards him carefully and even teaches Phillip to fend for himself on the island. Phillip has been taught all his life that black people are different from white people, but through his time with Timothy he learns that the only real difference is the color of their skin.
There are so many ironies in this book. The war is the cause of all the pain and suffering, yet rescue comes because of American planes searching for German U-boats. Phillip is at first terrified of Timothy, but it is Timothy who prevents any harm from coming to him. Phillip's blindness is a plague that makes a difficult situation even more so, but in the end his blindness protects him from the worst experience of all.
I absolutely loved this book. The depth of its themes makes it more suitable to older students, but even younger ones could appreciate the story of a little boy being stuck on a deserted island. I listened to the audio version of it, and when Timothy's Jamaican-style accent started up, I was glad! Just a word of caution, though...that Jamaican accent can become contagious! My husband was bewildered by all of my "Dis book be true outrageous, mon" until he listened to a clip with me!