From the cover alone, it is clear where a read through Lawrence alumnus Andrew Graff’s debut novel Raft of Stars will take you. This story about two boys on the run from the law is a young adult coming-of-age piece, a Huckleberry Finn-esque adventure that puts nature in all its beauty and destruction at the forefront of the story.
With respect to nature, I believe the novel finds its greatest success. The setting of Claypot, Wisconsin and the surrounding wilderness is portrayed quite well and with a great deal of heart. Much like a hike through the forest, Raft of Stars can attribute a much of its excitement to the familiarity in its images, the feeling of covering new ground despite having seen places like this hundreds of times before. The images Graff paints from the perspective of the protagonist, nicknamed Fish, as well as other characters, makes for an interesting read throughout. It’s easy to stop and appreciate the little details.
Though I felt let down while reading this book, Raft of Stars falls into some of the pitfalls of the Young Adult genre. The plot is fairly predictable, and most of the few twists along the way landed a bit rough with me. This novel takes place between three different perspectives: our protagonist Fish who has run away with his friend Bread, Claypot’s Texan sheriff Cal and Tiffany, a local who finds herself invested in the two boys’ safety. Graff interweaves the three plotlines together, perhaps too tight at times. Some may find the events leading up to the climax of the story to be unrealistic in how they come to be. Also interlaced between the lines of this book is an interaction with fate and spirituality, which gives a sort of “explanation” for why things sometimes turn out the way they need to.
The subject of characters in this novel is a little more difficult. Graff gives us a decent list of characters to empathize and interact with, and I enjoyed the dynamics between each of the pairs within the three perspectives of the novel. I finished the book with few complaints about the depth of each of the characters, but I do think there was room to explore the more complex aspects of their personalities. There was a mix of moments, both hits and misses, that I took note of. I will say briefly that while this novel is a positive example of portraying varied levels and types of emotions within men, I thought the women within Raft of Stars, though demonstrated as quite capable people, relied too much on their marital status. I would have liked to see the book focus more on these women’s identities, rather than their juxtaposition to men.
While the plot and the characters played a secondary part in my continued reading of this book, Raft of Stars isn’t a novel that should be read in pursuit of the final page. There is a lot that is familiar about this book, in both good and bad ways, yet while on the trail, it’s difficult not to sit and smile in its images. People who want a story with more complex plots and characters may be underwhelmed by what Raft of Stars has to offer, but to those willing to lay within the prose of the story and take in its more sensory moments, I would say it is worth a full read.