Book Review: The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

The Raft
by
S. A. Bodeen

Here’s a fast-moving Young Adult survival story about fifteen-year-old Robie Mitchell, who lives with her parents on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Islands. The story begins on Honolulu where Robie often stays with her young aunt, A. J. When A. J. is called out of town, Robie convinces her she can remain in Honolulu alone, rather than return to Midway.

But a series of bad decisions puts Robie on a cargo plane back to Midway. The plane crashes into the Pacific and she finds herself on a raft. Robie faces the usual dangers of being lost at sea: dehydration, starvation, and shark attacks are just a few.

Until this point, Robie has faced very few difficulties, but as an independent only child, she’s developed many untapped inner strengths. She’s learned much about sea life from her research biologist parents, knowledge that will come in handy on the raft. But, as with all dangerous situations that demand sudden physical and mental strength, Robie must also cope with several quick decisions she’s had to make, including a few moral ones. Now she has plenty of time to consider them.

These worries rotate through Robie’s mind, but the most important task is survival. I enjoyed seeing how she celebrates new hope when she discovers unseen resources on the raft. I also gained confidence in her as she learns to improvise with what little she has. New and dangerous problems are a given as time passes and it’s all up to Robie to figure out how to get rescued.

The author includes interesting details about bird and marine life, including hard facts about how these creatures survive. Bodeen also points to an alarming amount of trash that floats in this part of the Pacific, debris that interferes with sea life. These details make Robie’s story modern and realistic.

The Raft is another YA book I grabbed off the shelf at the library. It’s an easy read and think it would be especially great for reluctant readers and for those who like survival stories.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere
by
Celeste Ng

Rating:

Nothing is left to chance in Elena Richardson’s life. Her family has lived for generations in Shaker Heights, a planned community outside of Cleveland, Ohio. And Elena has spent her adult life meeting the goals to match her life to the Shaker Heights model: marriage, career, beautiful home, and children. Raised in affluence and taught to help others, she makes a point of being generous.

Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, live the opposite way. Low on money, they move from town to town where Mia waits tables and works on her art. When she needs new inspiration, they pack up and leave. But this time, Mia is determined to give Pearl a more grounded life.

The story is set in the 1980s and begins with a Richardson family crisis. Then Ng rewinds to explain how it all began:

It seems like the perfect arrangement when the Warrens move into the Richardsons’ subsidized rental. But the threat of change looms as their lives intersect. A fast friendship develops between Pearl and Elena’s son, Moody, and Pearl is soon fascinated with the Richardson family, believing Elena is the consummate mom. Elena’s kids are equally drawn to Mia, who shows them a different kind of parenting.

The kids can’t articulate these differences, but they form the slow-burning backdrop to the biggest story in Shaker Heights—an intensely debated adoption case. The baby is one-year-old Mirabelle McCullough, or May Ling if you ask her birth mother, Bebe Chow.

As the judge’s hearing approaches, the town takes sides and the question of motherhood figures into all of Ng’s characters. The McCulloughs are sure they can be the best parents to baby Mirabelle, but doesn’t Bebe Chow deserve to have her daughter?

Several side stories between the Pearl and Richardson kids highlight the intensity of high school years in which friendship, romance, hormones and fitting in figure prominently. Ng includes plenty of sibling rivalry to reveal the complicated dynamics in the Richardson home.

In addition to motherhood, Ng questions the motives of Elena’s good works and asks, “What is the best way to live?” Throughout the story are themes of sacrifice and life choices. Readers will see how some of her characters figure it out and wonder what fares for others.

I highly recommend Little Fires Everywhere. It’s a terrific story of complicated family dynamics. You’ll want to read it all at once to know how it works out!

And for those of you who are wondering, Shaker Heights is a real place. You can read about it here and here.

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