Title: The Raft
Author: S. A. Bodeen
Genre: YA Literary(-ish) Fiction
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 231 Pages
ISBN-10: 0312650108 (MacTeen)
ISBN-13: 978-0312650100 (MacTeen)
Reviewed by: Emmy
Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.
And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.
Quick & Dirty: Short and fast-paced, Bodeen’s writing strikes home in a big way. A good survival story with deep, unique characters.
Opening Sentence: The dude with the lime-green Mohawk and dark wooden pegs in his earlobes looked down at me, the long silver needle in his rubber-gloved hand pointed directly at my face.
I’ll be straight with you — the closest I’ve ever been to a plane crash is watching LOST and United 93, but I love survival stories. Love. Probably because I’m good in emergencies and I’m convinced when the zombie plague breaks out I won’t be the first one to die, but my point: even though this novel crosses into literary fiction — a territory I rarely tread, because hey, I hate it — this novel struck me.
The novel starts with a small dose of teenage stupidity. Robie’s aunt left her home alone on the condition that her friend comes to check on her everyday, and of course the friend can’t make it and asks Robie to tell her aunt that she’s sorry. Robie, eager to be left alone like an adult, does no such thing. One night she almost gets robbed at night and the experience scares her so much she finds a cargo plane leaving ASAP to take her off Honolulu.
The turbulence gets so bad that co-pilot Max throws Robie out of the plane and into an inflatable raft before jumping out after her. So begins our survival story. Max ends up with a concussion and spends most of the novel sleeping — making The Raft about one person, trapped in one tiny place. Let’s get real. Being trapped on a raft waiting for rescue is repetitive and boring; Robie’s survivor instincts kept not only the characters, but the story alive.
I don’t think I would have liked this novel if the narrator had been different. Robie begins the novel shallow and a stupid, but as soon as that plane goes down we see the strong young woman underneath all the frivolity of everyday life on Hawaii. She fought against her circumstances and stayed alive. She had to witness some pretty horrific things on that raft, survive horrible conditions — but she did it, and it felt real. Everything about The Raft felt real. It doesn’t sound like the story should be interesting, yet I was engrossed the whole time. (Note: It took me about two hours to read. It’s SHORT.)
But no novel is perfect, and OMG Robie would not stop going on about seabirds. Like, I’m sorry, I don’t care about the mating habits or nesting or any of that. There were pages and pages about these birds and honestly, there’s some deep symbolic, metaphorical meaning behind them — they fly free while Robie and Max are trapped, or whatever — but it pretty much smacked you in the face. For pages.
As you can tell from the excerpt below, the writing style of The Raft isn’t a normal narrative. It’s more poetic, more distant from the narrator than I was used to reading, but it worked. At the same time, if you don’t like it in the beginning, it’ll only annoy you more as the story goes on. For me, it didn’t matter. The voice pulled me in and kept me engaged and the writing style never disrupted the flow for me — but I know a lot of other readers who wanted to chuck the book at a wall for every broken sentence.
If you like survival stories or are looking for a contemporary that’s going to pluck at your heartstrings, The Raft is a great read.
I want to live.
Fighting with every kick, every ounce of reserve I had left,
the light got brighter,
and I reached up,
planning to burst out into the air.
But I couldn’t.
I was at the surface, I knew I was.
But my hands touched a barrier. Something was there, soft and yielding, but I couldn’t push through. The red was all around it.
FTC Advisory: Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan provided me with a copy of The Raft. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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