Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: THE RAFT by S.A. Bodeen

Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft. 

And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.
This is going to be a short review, so I'm not going to bother with a jump break. I had middling hopes for this book when I picked it up, and a middling reward was what I received.

We meet Robie in Hawaii as she's getting her nose pierced. It's not exactly a parent-approved activity (she's only fifteen), but that's what visiting an aunt is for, right? I would've suggested she change her name as well, but I suppose that's not her fault. (Seriously, tailored from a traditionally male name AND missing a letter? This trend is getting old.) Like most people, the thought of a needle piercing her tender cartilage is unnerving, but she allows the exasperated green-haired man to pierce her nose after he mentions one thing worse. That's all she needs, just to know one thing worse to make the pain seem better.

When her aunt is called out of town on business, Robie is allowed the run of Hawaii. Like any young teen, she revels in her freedom until something scary happens. Then she just wants to run home to mommy. I'm being slightly sarcastic, but I really can't blame her. Fifteen, all alone, and scared silly? I'd want my mommy, too!

Unfortunately, the mom in question is back home on Midway, a teeny island in the middle of the Pacific, accessible only by supply plane. Robie manages to get a spot on the plane at the last moment so she can arrive home and surprise her parents. Of course, she doesn't quite make it.

It was a very Castaway setup. A traveler wanting to get home, a cargo plane that crashes in the middle of the ocean, fire, despair, etc. Unlike Tom Hanks, however, Robie has a fellow castaway in the form of Max, the co-pilot. He's hardly better than Wilson, however, thanks to the head injury he sustains in the crash.

Cue middling rewards.

Despite what the synopsis promises, this is not a harrowing book. Yes, she and Max face the very real possibility of death by drowning/starvation/dehydration/shark, but I can literally count on one hand the times my heart started pounding. (I'll get to those moments in a second.) From what I could tell, this lack of tension could be blamed on three separate issues.

1. The writing wasn't the best. Nothing felt immediate or important. I got the feeling that the author was adding descriptions for the sake of describing, which robs a story of the pace needed to keep the reader on edge. I don't need to know the specific color, style, and pattern of every bikini worn in the book. I can only take so many water or sun descriptions. There was also a lot of telling instead of showing, though I can't give specific examples. (Ha! Ironic.) I felt like partway through the author realized there wasn't enough story to meet her word limit, so she tried to fluff up the rest.

2. I didn't care. I just flat-out didn't care what happened to either Robie or Max. I couldn't connect with either of them at all. Robie is fifteen. She has parents who love her. She should have at least a portion of my sympathy, but I felt nothing whatsoever. And Max? Max was just weird and boring. Granted, a revelation about him at the end (that I totally saw coming) helped a teensy bit, but not nearly enough. Also, given that Max was 25 and Robie was 15, I squirmed every time there was any physical contact whatsoever between them.

3. Robie was a klutz of mind-blowing proportions. Normally, clumsiness doesn't bother me too much, but the number of times Robie completely blew any chance of rescue was RIDICULOUS. She dropped things, broke things, lost things, completely ignored survival instructions, mixed up flares... After a while, I nearly convinced myself that she deserved to die for botching things so badly, but then I reminded myself that it wasn't my fault that the author couldn't think of any less obvious ways to delay rescue.

There was only one aspect that I liked about the book, the same aspect that provided those heart-pounding moments. Sharks. Yeah, I know, sharks are so overdone, but Ms. Bodeen did a great job! I won't try to describe what all happened, but let me just say that it was very Jaws-like but did not involve Great Whites. (Thank heavens.)

Huh! This review ended up being longer than I thought. I'm sorry it wasn't very positive, but c'est la vie. Though who knows, maybe it'll end up being just the book for one of you. You never know.

Points Added For: The cover (so pretty), SHARKS!

Points Subtracted For: Mediocre writing, Robie's klutziness, Max, not making me care, the cover (where are Robie's cornrows?!).

Good For Fans Of: Survival stories.

Notes For Parents: Some language, scary moments.

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