Raft of Stars

Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780063031906. $26.99. F
DEBUT In 1990s northern Wisconsin, 10-year-old Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin flee into the woods after believing that Fish has killed Bread’s abusive father, eventually constructing a raft to carry them down a dangerous river. They’re followed by four adults frantic to save them: woebegone sheriff Cal, newly arrived in Wisconsin and beginning to doubt his calling; gas station attendant Tiffany, a poet and outsider secretly longing for Cal; Fish’s mother, a fierce Pentecostal not above cursing when she rides the rapids; and Fish’s tough, wilderness-smart grandfather. The characters are expertly drawn in their shifting relationships, and the two boys’ closeness and bravery are especially affecting. Realistically, they have moments of genuine tension in a narrative that is both an engaging adventure and a profound reflection on human bonding, what it means to be a man (and a good one), and the importance of persevering. Indeed, some iteration of the word hope appears nearly 100 times in the book, yet the result is never treacly; facing the life issues examined here in an unforgiving if beautifully rendered wilderness is no easy feat.
VERDICT Highly recommended, whether you want literate thrills or thoughtful, affirming meditation.
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