S.A. Bodeen (Tanzania 1989-90)
Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan)
$16.99 (Hardcover); $9.99 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Reilly Ridgell (Micronesia 1971-73)
I’m not much into reading “young adult” literature. Oh I read some Hardy boys mysteries and maybe a few others like that but by high school I gravitated quickly to the classics and works considered more “hip.” So I wasn’t sure how I’d find S.A. Bodeen’s survival story, The Raft. What a pleasant surprise it was. The writing is strong and purposeful, the characters interesting, the situation fascinating. The story is told in the first person, usually a red flag but Bodeen pulls it off well, by Robie Mitchell, a 15 year old girl who teeters between common sense and being a bit of an airhead. But I guess that’s what comes with being 15. She has spent much of her teen years isolated from peers as the only teenager on Midway where her parents work as research biologists. There is much that she likes about Midway, but she often feels deprived, especially when internet connections are down.
A visit to her aunt in Honolulu allows her to flex her rebelliousness as she gets her nose pierced with her aunt’s consent. Then she ends up staying alone when her aunt is called away to the mainland. That proves to be a disaster as a crazy street person physically accosts her. Though she manages to make it back to her aunt’s apartment, she decides to return early to Midway on a plane leaving in the morning. She can’t reach her parents as the phone channels to Midway are down. She goes to the airport, boards the plane along with only a pilot and co-pilot and lots of cargo bound for Midway, and looks forward to being home with her parents.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead the plane goes down and she ends up in a life raft with no food or water and only a badly injured co-pilot for company. Bodeen’s writing is crisp and pulls the reader along, becoming the very definition of a “page turner.” The rest of the book deals with Robie’s efforts to survive on her own with only minimal help from Max, the co-pilot. Preserving her sanity is also something she must deal with.
There are several parallel themes going on here. One is Robie learning what she can do in spite of her fears. If she is going to survive, there is a lot she has to overcome. She relies on her knowledge from her years on Midway as well as some survival instructions in the raft. But the main thing is she must continually push herself to do what she knows she has to do. Max often helps with this, but she eventually realizes it’s really her doing.
Second is how much she misses her parents. Parents, have your daughters read this book before they become teenagers. Maybe it will help them appreciate you more.
Finally, there is much about ocean pollution that is woven into the story quite masterfully. The amount of plastic and other junk deposited in the ocean is much more than most people realize, and Bodeen makes sure that if nothing else, the reader will come away with a realization, as disheartening as it may be, of how much man-made crap there is in the ocean.
Robie’s raft eventually fetches up on one of the uninhabited Northwest Islands of the Hawaii chain. There her survival chores change, but are just as daunting. At one point she realizes that being a last minute add-on to the flight her name was not even on the manifest and people might not realize she was even on the plane. She manages to build a signal fire using left over lighter fluid in the disposable lighters that had washed up on the island over the years in numbers by the hundred. But a rain squall put out the fire without giving her enough time to quench her thirst. Fortunately a science research vessel stops by the island and she is rescued though Max doesn’t quite make it.
I must point out, in a bit of a quibble, that a moon that is just a sliver does not rise at sunset. Crescent moons set from just after sunset to a few hours after sunset depending on what part of the moon’s cycle they’re in. Generally, however, the information about Hawaii, Midway, the Northwest Islands, albatross and other birds, monk seals, sharks, and other aspects of geography and biology is quite accurate.
Robie survives, her sanity mostly intact, and her confidence in herself solidified. She makes an excellent role model for young girls.
The Raft is a great story told very well. I highly recommend it.
Reilly Ridgell is the author of Pacific Nations and Territories, in print continuously since 1983; Pacific Neighbors; Bending to the Trade Winds - Stories of the Peace Corps Experience in Micronesia; Green Pearl Odyssey - a novel of Micronesia; and recently released The Isla Vista Crucible.