What an adventure Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff was! This coming-of-age story about two ten-year-old boys on the lam in the north woods of Wisconsin after they think they’ve committed a crime is so full of heart you’d have to be absent one yourself to not appreciate it. The story takes place in 1994, and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that it’s listed as “historical fiction”. I’ll be forever side-eyeing whoever made that decision.
There are definitely some religious undertones in this beautiful story of resilience and survival. But never preachy or critical. The boys, aptly nicknamed “Fish” and “Bread”, don’t have much, but they do have a strong bond only our children can achieve before life -and time- slowly chips away at their innocence. The first boy, Fish, is visiting his grandfather, Teddy, for the summer while his widowed, God-fearing mother, Melanie, stays back home. The second, Bread, who only sees Fish when he comes to visit his grandfather, lives alone with an abusive father, Jack. After a situation arises in which they feel they must escape the law, the best friends find themselves relying on tuna, slim Jims, and worms as they make their way through the wilderness. And while you will find yourself concerned for what will become of the boys, you’ll laugh at the hilarious (and adorable) conversations they have, and smile at the kindness and respect they show not only to each other but to the wildlife surrounding them.
I feel the need to mention there was a part in the book that reminded me of Stand By Me. So yeah, enter big-time nostalgia which almost brought me to tears. While this story and its characters are completely different, I immediately thought of the scene in Stand By Me where Chris (River Phoenix) comforts Gordie (Wil Wheaton) with no judgment or interruption. He just lets him cry. And that is the kind of love captured between Fish and Bread. The story differs, but the feelings are the same. I loved that even though the boys had it hard, they weren’t unkind. Too often we give attention to the people who become horrible and blame a bad childhood, instead of lift up and honor those who overcome the adversity, always respect others, and stay true to themselves in spite of it.
Fish and Bread aren’t the only characters you’ll get to know. If you ever wondered what the adults were up to in stories starring their children (E.T., The Goonies, etc), Raft of Stars has got you covered. We meet the new Sheriff in town, Cal, who hates his job, gets queasy at the sight of blood (kind of a problem), and is the hottest of messes as he deals with an outdoors he is not accustomed to. Then there’s Tiffany, a lonely purple-haired gas station clerk/poet who joins forces with Fish’s mom to track the boys down. Teddy, Fish’s stubborn grandfather and Korean War veteran who just wants some quiet goddamnit. Melanie, Fish’s devoted and religious to-the-point-of-scary mother. And then Bobby, the Barney Fife-like constable who has a small role in the story but was so hilariously optimistic you can’t help but appreciate his presence.
The biggest force of all, however? Mother Nature. Not to be messed with, taken for granted, or mistreated. The lives of all of the humans change within the pages of this stellar debut novel by Graff, but nature’s fury will always remain the same.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Dream Cast: (all from Wisconsin because why not?)
Fish and Bread: ??? Not sure because I don’t know of many child actors.
Sheriff Cal: Mark Ruffalo
Teddy: Willem Dafoe
Tiffany: Rachel Brosnahan
Melanie: Heather Graham
Jack: Bradley Whitford
Bobby: Tony Shalhoub