Fiction Versus Reality

My phone buzzed in my jeans’ pocket as I drove to my son’s high school. In a glance I recognized the number and picked up. In California we can’t phone and drive, and I respect the law. But no mother can ignore a call from her kid’s school, right?

“Did you get my first call?” asked the school receptionist. “About the sailing team?”

My heart slammed in my chest.

“Everybody is fine,” she went on. “But one of the boats capsized.”

My son and ten other kids from his school have been sailing since last week on a lake located forty minutes away from town.

Today was a gorgeous spring day, but the wind was exceptionally strong. The idea that this kind of wind was perfect for a California wildfire had crossed my mind several times throughout the day. But I hadn’t thought of a sailboat incident.

“Was my son on the boat?” I asked. “Is he okay? Are the kids okay?”

“Oh, yes, all of them are fine. But they are delayed. They should be back in two hours.”

“Thanks for your call.”

I drove to a nearby café. British people are right: a cup of hot tea is a must after a fright.

The café was quiet now that the university students have graduated. While I cupped my mug, envisioning my son drenched and freezing, his friends in the same situation, time trickled and all kind of thoughts went through my mind. Maybe someone was wounded. You can get hurt when a boat capsizes. I dialed my son. No answer. Should I go pick him up? Although I am familiar with the lake the marina is a mile away from shore and its access is through a keyed code that I don’t have. Keep calm, everything is fine. I swallowed another sip of tea and got my phone. My hand met a paperback in my purse. I had forgotten about the book I purchased at the book fair last week.

An eight grade girl recommended me The Raft and her suggestion was confirmed by the woman in charge of the fair. The Raft had been selling like freshly baked croissants for the last two days.

The book had been in my purse since I bought it. On the cover, a young girl lies on top of a basic rescue raft, which bobs on the endless surface of the ocean. Above the girl, the sky stretches as immense as the ocean.

I shivered despite the warm afternoon sun. How strange to have for only companion a book titled The Raft on the day my son and his sailing class have capsized on a fairly large lake.

So this is with a cup of green tea and The Raft that I waited for the sailors’ return.

The story of fifteen-year-old Robie, the main character of the novel, had the potential for a horrific ending. Robie has taken the flight between Honolulu and the Midway Atoll– a group of Pacific islands where she lives with her marine biologists parents – countless times. But one day, after a visit to her aunt, Robie has to get to Midway in a hurry and boards the cargo flight at the last minute. So quickly that her name isn’t on the manifest, something she will only find out later. An unexpected storm hits during the flight, and the engine cuts out. Max, the copilot, then urges Robie to put on a life jacket and then to get on a raft before the plane crashes. When Robie realizes what has happened she is in the middle of the ocean, alone with unconscious Max, who will eventually die. Robie is the only survivor of the accident and will spend twelve days alone on the raft before being rescued.

With one protagonist and very few dialogues, the novel could have been boring, but S.A. Bodeen has managed to write a story packed with realistic action and strong emotional feelings. Brief chapters, well-paced suspense, and cliffhangers kept me on the edge as I followed Robie along her journey. Teens – especially girls – will identify with this typical contemporary teen who has lived, until the plane crash, a sheltered life surrounded by caring parents, and yet will find the strength to live when confronted to exceptional events. Max’s story adds to the mystery of the novel and to Robie’s personal growth. Marine animals – beautiful scenes with albatross and seals – play also important roles in this quiet novel that I was finishing when my phone rang.

“I’m fine,” my son told me. “But we have work to do with the boat. It’s filled with water. Give me another hour.”

Unlike Robbie’s parents I knew where my son was. After reading The Raft I also knew that a lot can happen in an hour, so, unable to wait any longer, I drove to the lake. When I finally theraftpicked up my son he was a masculine version of Robbie, drained and bruised.

However The Capsized Sailboat was a pale story compared to The Raft.

And I was relieved that fiction had won over reality.

P.S. Although I’m not an eight grader, I highly recommend The Raft.

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