The Deep End of the Ocean is a novel by Jacquelyn Mitchtard dealing with themes of family and multiculturalism. Beth Cappadora's son Ben is kidnapped and she experiences a mental breakdown. Years later, a boy comes to the door asking to mow her lawn and, gradually, Beth discovers that the boy Ben, who ended up in a Greek home nearby after his kidnapper was committed to a mental asylum. The book recounts Ben's conflicts with his mother and brother and his struggle to reintegrate with his birth family.
Wisconsin photographer and housewife Beth Cappadora leaves her youngest son, Ben, alone with his older brother for a brief moment in a crowded Chicago hotel lobby, while attending her high school reunion. The older son lets go of Ben's hand and Ben vanishes without a trace. Beth goes into an extended mental breakdown and it is left to her husband and owner of a restaurant, Pat, to force his wife to robotically care for their remaining two children, 7-year-old Vincent and infant daughter Kerry.
Nine years later a young boy named Sam asks Beth if she needs the lawn mowed. Beth suspects that this boy who lives with his "father" two blocks away is in fact her lost son, and while Sam mows the lawn, she takes photographs of him to show to her husband and teenage son, who then says that he suspected the boy's true identity all along. The parents contact Detective Candy Bliss who pops in to offer wise, albeit often cryptic and conflicting, advice to Beth. It is learned that at the reunion in Chicago, the celebrity alumna Cecil Lockhart kidnapped Ben, renamed him Sam, and raised him as her own child until she was committed to a mental hospital, leaving Sam to be raised in a house only two blocks from the Cappadoras, by his adoptive father, the sensitive and intellectual George Karras.
Ben was raised by a Greek-American father for nine years, while his biological parents are Italian-American. Ben is a polite, intelligent American boy who takes great pride in participating in Greek cultural rituals, much to the frustration of Pat who wants to pretend that Ben was never really abducted. Ben is faced with the cultural identity that he grew up with, and the cultural identity he would have known had he not been kidnapped.
Ben's adoptive father agrees to surrender Ben to his birth family, while still living two blocks away. Torn between two worlds and having lost both of the parents that he knew, Ben expresses suicidal feelings to Beth.
Ben's only memory of his biological family is one of brother Vincent and thus over a one-on-one basketball game he absolves his brother of any responsibility for his abduction, and agrees to return to live with the Cappadoras.
At the end of the novel, many conflicts remain unresolved. Pat still has problems loving his sons: Ben because he can not relate to his personality and Vincent because he does not connect his teenaged rebellion and cynicism to nine years of bad parenting. Beth has regained her position in the family as an equal parent, but Ben and Vincent's emotional scars may require years of intense therapy.