Hail, friends! Do you remember last year when I said I still had to finish The Wanderer by Sharon Creech? Well, I finished it, and it only took me about four hours reading off and on throughout the day. My consensus? It was worth every hour spent on it.
I love the book and give it five stars. Let me explain why.
“The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, come in.”The Wanderer, Sharon Creech, page 1
This intriguing paragraph introduces The Wanderer‘s main character and main antagonist. The primary sources of conflict in this story are “character vs. self” and “character vs. nature.” The sea, presented initially as a friend, takes on a darker role as the book progresses.
Here is the official synopsis of the book:
Thirteen-year-old Sophie hears the sea calling, promising adventure and a chance for discovery as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. Sophie’s cousin Cody isn’t so sure he has the strength to prove himself to the crew and to his father.
Through Sophie’s and Cody’s travel logs, we hear stories of the past and the daily challenges of surviving at sea as The Wanderer sails toward its destination—and its passengers search for their places in the world.source
Sophie’s mother gives her a diary to record her experiences at sea aboard The Wanderer. At first glance, she seems like a normal girl with a normal family, but it soon becomes evident that much is hidden behind Sophie’s cheerful countenance and optimistic writing.
The gaps in Sophie’s writing are filled by the records of Cody, Sophie’s cousin. The Wanderer switches between these two perspectives flawlessly to present a complete picture of the situation. What Sophie omits, Cody includes, and what Cody omits, Sophie includes. This makes for excellent characterization both directly and indirectly.
The rest of the crew of The Wanderer are Sophie’s three uncles and two cousins. Each of them is a distinct character with a vivid personality. Through the development of their characters, the author explores the idea of doing what a person wants to do instead of wasting their talent on something that drains away their joy. While this theme could have been better integrated (it was only shown in passing conversations with each of the three uncles), it really made me think.
In the words of Uncle Mo, “…sometimes, Sophie, a person just needs a job. And sometimes the job he can get is not the one he most wants.”
Sophie’s reply: “Well, I hope I don’t do that… I hope I don’t get a job I don’t want. It seems like such a waste.”
Besides the characters, another wonderful aspect of The Wanderer is its array of settings. I was impressed by the author’s knowledge of sailing terminology and vibrant descriptions of the sea. Sometimes, the descriptions of the ship left me a little lost since I don’t know what a mizzen mast and bilge are, but that does not detract from how incredible the sailing scenes are. If someone asked me to write a book on this subject, I would skip over most of the details, but it’s these details that make the story so immersive.
Occasionally, sections of this book felt a bit implausible. When it comes to contemporary fiction, if something feels unrealistic, I will immediately begin to dislike the book. Perhaps this is because I hold contemporary fiction to a higher standard than any other genre (besides historical fiction, perhaps). It’s supposed to be “realistic” fiction, isn’t it? Contemporary is not like the fantasy or sci-fi genres which at least allow you a little wiggle room.
The entire premise of the book (a girl, her three uncles, and two cousins embark on a journey across the ocean to England) is itself within the bounds of plausibility; the dangers of the journey are not downplayed, and a significant portion of the beginning of the book is dedicated to fixing up the ship and making sure it’s seaworthy. The author’s integration of sailing terminology and activities is key to making the adventure feel realistic.
Occasional exchanges of dialogue do feel a bit unrealistic, though, as well as the idea that Sophie and Cody would have been able to continue writing in their travel logs as a storm was raging. This cannot really be remedied, though, for the only way to make it more plausible would be to have a large gap in time between log entries, and that would not make for a good story.
This book is also written for middle-grade readers (ages 8-12), which is why some aspects of it probably feel less realistic. Interspersed throughout the story were sections definitely geared more toward that age group, such as one character teaching the others how to juggle, and someone writing down a whole list of what the letters in radio code stand for.
Yet despite the book’s target audience being young, its themes and content are at times more mature. Sophie and Cody’s lives before and during The Wanderer’s voyage contain both happy and tragic moments. As such, I would consider this book as much a story for young adults as middle-grade readers.
Although I am perhaps too picky when it comes to contemporary fiction, The Wanderer made it past my rigorous demands for the genre. I loved the characters, especially Sophie and Cody. Sophie reminded me of Ariella from my books, and Cody was so much like Zaiden and Alek, two more of my characters.
I would recommend this book for lovers of contemporary fiction, sailing, adventure novels, and stories about self-discovery and finding one’s place in the world. After finishing The Wanderer, I was left with feelings of longing and warmth in my heart, both indicators that this is a book I will remember for a long time and reread many times over.
Have you ever read The Wanderer? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it, I hope you will after this. It’s definitely going on my “favorites” shelf.
See you next week, friends!