Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff grabbed me from the first page and kept me along for the ride. In this debut novel, two best friends run from a prison sentence; Fischer Branson attempts to save his best friend, Dale Breadwin, by shooting Dale’s father. They run to the woods to escape retribution and try to live off the land using their Boy Scout expertise. Once they build a raft, their story begins as they float down the river into their new life of solitude.
The entire town is worried about these boys. Overall, the general feel is that the community cares more for the well-being of Fischer and Dale than they do Dale’s father, which is an essential thread throughout the novel. The sheriff and Dale’s grandfather set out to find the boys, creating the second adventure of the novel: pursuit. As they traverse the Wisconsin woods as a native explorer (Dale’s grandfather) and a newbie to town (the sheriff), their compassion for the boys and for justice is tested.
The sheriff’s girlfriend and Dale’s mother also set out to find the boys and those pursuing them, creating the third adventure: pursuit of the pursuing. They have new information that everyone needs to know, especially the sheriff. Both natives to the town of Claypot, Wisconsin, both women adventure through the woods.
One may argue that the woods themselves are also a character, presenting different characteristics through every storyline. There are many themes beautifully intertwined throughout this book and offer up insight on childhood trauma, friendship through adversities, good cops vs bad cops, familial bonds, community as family, among many others. The only thing slightly off was the characters called themselves Fish and Bread, which may or may not be a hearkening to the loaves and fishes story from the Bible (but I highly doubt that).
When I finished reading this book, I honestly didn’t know if I liked it or not. It created a space to bounce around ideas and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I remember trying to hand this book to a coworker saying, “Please read this. I don’t know how to feel about it. Let’s talk about it.” And now, upon reflection, I do think this would make a great book club book just because there is so much to discuss and reflect on with others.
After reading this book more than a month ago, I can confidently say now, this is a book that will shake you in ways you didn’t expect, long after you put it down. Throughout the novel, themes return, images reflect plot, and the sentences remain beautiful throughout. I cannot wait to talk about all these things with others!
Stay tuned for more book reviews and whatever the world throws at us next.
Nicholas John Nelson