Learn to sail, conquer a fear, meet your family–all while WANDERING

If you haven’t started reading your children’s books for yourself yet, this one would be another great place to start.  Sometimes, I think adult fiction gets too carried away in its seriousness, almost as if it feels like unending depression and angst, forbidden sex, and deceit are the only truths in our lives.  Either that, or you’re reading a “fluff” piece about a girl who shops and tries to find Mr. Right.  Either way, with exceptions for a few of my favorite adult authors, I just can’t take adult fiction anymore.

But sometimes (usually, I hope) life is just about living with your family, growing up (and no, I don’t think we ever stop growing up), making mistakes and correcting them, being scared and chasing your fears, arguing and then wishing you didn’t.  This is why in a lot of ways I feel kid lit is sometimes closer to the real thing.  Which brings us to today’s book.  I loved it, and it only made me realize that I haven’t read enough of Sharon Creech’s honored work.

Title: The Wanderer
Author: Sharon Creech
: Fiction
Age: Upper Elementary and Middle School, 8 – 12

Summary and Review:

Sophie is the only girl on the sailboat.  Together with her two cousins and three uncles, they set sail for England in a journey toward their grandfather.  As an adopted member of the family, Sophie struggles at times to be accepted and also to accept herself on this journey.  As a girl, she struggles to be taken seriously.  And as a 13-year-old, she struggles to understand her place on the boat, in this family, and in the world.  The adventure is cleverly narrated by both Sophie and Cody, one of her cousins.  This duel narrator gives a great depth of understanding to both the journey and the characters aboard.  You get to hear stories from two different points of view and the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions.

A lot of the subplots in this book are really just in-depth character development, told in wonderful ways.  The characters on the boat are real: Brian, the third kid on the boat and the one left out of the narration, is awkward and nerdy, something that Sophie and Cody both struggle to understand and at times very much dislike.  But their dislike is honest and explored in their own narratives–kids reading this story will very much relate, no matter which side of the popularity line they are usually on.

Another character-based storyline is the relationships between both Cody and Brian’s and their fathers, who are brothers.  Cody strives to show his hard-to-please dad that he merits serious consideration while Brian’s dad, immensely proud of Brian’s ability to spout facts at the drop of a hat, doesn’t understand or appreciate Cody’s attitude or joking around.

Sophie’s story, though, is the one to follow as she reveals more about her own journey, her reasons for wanting to go on the trip, and her own relationship with the grandfather that, as Brian likes to point out, isn’t her real grandfather. *SPOILER ALERT*  On the journey you learn that Sophie’s birth parents were killed in a boating accident, and that she is taking this trip because it’s something she feels she has to do, has to get over.  She tells stories to the rest of the crew about her own life and the life of the grandfather she’s never met, and they begin to understand that her stories, which are told in the third person, are actually her, and that the stories of her grandfather, which they think she must be making up, are also true, learned in letters he’s written her.  The theme of a family coming together, an emotional journey alongside a physical one, is real.  It’s good literature, and it makes a strong point for kids to follow.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Definitely talk about the three kids, Sophie, Brian, and Cody, and their differences.  What makes them each click?  What do they each like and dislike?  What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Why do Sophie and Cody dislike Brian so much and what helps them understand him better?  Ask your child if they have friends or classmates like any of these three–help them to see that a group of people with different strengths can really help each other.

A classic topic also are the numerous rifts on the family theme that this book inspires.  Why do the uncles argue if they like each other?  Why do Cody and his dad have such a hard time and what is it that finally brings them together?  Maybe relate these stories to stories in your own family.  Use the time to remember family reunions or big family dinners.  Every family has strife, and some kids can be more bothered by that than others.  Why do families fight and how does a child know if its serious or just part of what happens when a lot of different people get together?  Especially people who love each other so much–doesn’t that just intensify our feelings?  That can be hard for a child to grasp.  But let’s be honest–it can be hard for us to grasp, too, right?

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