The Wanderer by Sharon Creech; HarperCollins:
New York, 20oo; $16.99
About a year ago, my friend recommended The Wanderer to the girls in my Mother-Daughter book club. When she described it to us, I knew right away that it would be the perfect book for me—that I just had to read it. A few months later, when I was on a trip to London for February vacation, we were browsing around Foyles bookstore, and I saw The Wanderer on a shelf. I added it to the stack of books accumulating in my arms and bought them all. The day after I got back, I sat down on the couch with The Wanderer. I was absorbed from the first page, and didn't move until I finished. One of the reasons I found it so gripping was because of Sophie, the thirteen-year-old protagonist.
Like all the main characters in Sharon Creech's novels (I have read four others), Sophie was so vividly portrayed and well developed that I felt like I was her—soaring across the wide Atlantic with my uncles and cousins on a sailboat, answering the call of the ocean that had captivated me every year—forever optimistic about finally meeting my grandfather who was waiting for me in England. She also made me feel haunted by the shadow of her parents' death creeping back into her memory and stepping in and out of her dreams. I enjoyed every minute of this imaginary voyage because I associate the ocean with adventure, freedom and peaceful consolation, all as endless as time, just as Sophie does. I remember when I went on a whale-watching boat last summer, looking forward to the moment when the thin line of land behind me would disappear below the horizon and I would be surrounded by the wide ocean, stretching away in every direction. I thought of how Sophie eagerly anticipated getting underway and onto the sea.
The most emotionally effective part of the book for me was when Sophie finally met her grandfather, Bompie, and retold stories from his childhood to him as a means of comforting him when he was sick. She also told him the tale that she had pushed aside for so many years, of her parents' death by drowning, only to have it painfully emerge from the fog of forgotten memories and into her consciousness. The way she told this story, mingling it with Bompie's stories, provided insight into her feelings in the moment as she finally discovered the true nature of her own past.
This is a wonderful book for anyone who enjoys a deep analysis into what it means to survive a tragedy that claims someone you love. Even though I have never lost a loved relative or friend, after reading this book I feel as if I know what it would be like because the character of Sophie was so sophisticated and convincingly written. This book changed my perspective on death and helped me understand what was previously so incomprehensible in the way only an outstanding book can do.