Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ah, the unreliable narrator

Thirteen-year-old Sophie is the only girl on the crew of The Wanderer, a 45-foot-long sailboat that's sailing from Connecticut all the way to England. Her beloved grandfather Bompie moved back to his native England years earlier, and Sophie, her two teenaged cousins and her three uncles are sailing there together. Everyone tries to discourage Sophie from taking the trip, but she is determined to be an active part of the crew and to learn to do everything the boys do. She is an admirable character, tough and feisty.

The book is told from her viewpoint, which alternates with her cousin Cody's, in the form of travel logs. The careful reader will soon find discrepancies between Sophie's story and Cody's -- something isn't quite right. Their cousin Brian keeps saying that Sophie has never met Bompie, so how could she tell so many stories about him? Cody mentions that his aunt and uncle, the ones Sophie calls Mom and Dad, aren't her "real" parents. But Sophie acts as if they are, and doesn't seem to know what Brian is talking about when he asks her what happened to her first parents.

This book is for teens, and it may well be a young reader's first experience with an unreliable narrator -- so Cody's version of events is a great way to clue the reader that things are not necessarily as they appear. The journey across the ocean is a spiritual journey for everyone on the boat, especially Sophie. She must deal with personality conflicts among the crew, recurring nightmares, storms and heavy weather, as well as the all-male crew's expectations that she fit into their idea of what a girl should be and do. At times the narration is exciting and intense, making the reader feel the boat rocking underfoot and smell the salty sea air. At other times there is a lot of technical sailing language, as the narrators talk about life on the boat and the things they're learning to do. I found it fascinating, but a younger reader might not. Still, I would recommend it to readers who enjoy adventure (especially seafaring adventure) and/or realistic novels about relationships.

Awards: ALA Notable Book; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Christopher Award; Newbery Honor Book

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech (Scholastic, Inc., 2001)

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