Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff – Review
By Sandra Callard
American Andrew J. Graff sets Raft of Stars in a small town in Wisconsin in the mid west of the USA. It centres around two ten-year-old boys who are nicknamed Fish and Bread, a play on their surnames. Fish’s father is dead but he has a loving mother and grandfather. Bread has no mother and lives precariously with his brutal and alcoholic father, but the friendship between the boys is solid in spite of their differing homes.
The story begins when Fish calls at Bread’s home to find him, once again, taking a terrible beating from his father. A gun is on the table and, in fear and panic, Fish grabs it and fires at Bread’s dad, who falls to the floor, bleeding profusely.
The boys are horrified and afraid, and decide to run away. They pack as much food and drink as they can find, along with things they may need, and head for the forest. Fish leaves a note for his grandfather saying he has killed Bread’s father and that they are running away. They head for the wild and massive forest by the river, and the hunt begins for the boys.
The story falls into two major parts, one of which follows the runaways as they struggle to survive, and that of the local policeman, Cal, as he heads the search for them. The forest is vast and is home to a variety of wildlife, not least black bears, some of which can be seven feet in height. It seems astounding to me, as a British person who is naturally not used to seeing bears in any forest, that this can happen, but obviously in this part of America it can and it does.
The relationship between the boys is beautifully played out. Afraid of going home and afraid of carrying on, they only have each other to rely on. They care about each other and their conversations are typical of ten year old boys, as they fall out, cry and shout, whilst also showing their strength and dependence on one another as their situation becomes ever more precarious.
The huge Wisconsin forest and the accompanying river is beautifully conveyed in all its power and magnitude, as are the dangers the boys face from both man and beast.
One of the things that stands out clearly to me as is the way that guns and hunting are so prevalent in both speech and action. The comment by Tiffany, who is in love with the sheriff, is her hope that he will “take me hunting” some time is quite startling. British girls would possibly have very different hopes, and the polarity is joltingly clear.
The book’s characters are conveyed loud and vividly, with the mother of Fish, Miranda, standing out as an unexpected and feisty heroine in the fight to save her son. The surprising denouement towards the end is so right and gives a wonderfully polished finish to a lovely, taut and eventful novel.
‘Raft of Stars’ by Andrew J. Graff is published by HarperCollins, £14.99 hardback