I have always insisted that an author’s biography should have little influence on our understanding of the work at hand, that we should, as Billy Collins suggests, “wave at the author’s name on the shore.” So all I know about Michael Dorris is that he wrote (and I enjoyed) A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. And that he was married to Louise Erdrich and that he, I believe, committed suicide. There’s my wave. Does the connection with Erdrich give him some kind of credibility to tell the story of a 1492 Bahamian island?
The story is simple enough. More an exercise in character (Morning Girl and Star Boy, who narrate alternate chapters) than anything else. A plot summary of this admittedly short book (74 pages) would take, at most, a sentence.
Then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it made me re-think everything I read and thought I knew.
It’s listed as being appropriate for ages 9 and up. Would it work, for example, in 4th grade? A mother loses a baby in childbirth. How does one help students think about that? There’s not a lot of action. The students would read it. Would they be engaged? Would they think of it as a ‘normal’ story for 72 pages – a story of a brother and sister who don’t always get along but stand by each other when circumstances require? I think you could pretty much ask students to read the first 72 pages and then stop and just need 1-2 days of discussion for those. Then the last 2 pages would take any number of days to unpack.
The writing here is spare and effective. The image of Star Boy waiting out a storm under a tree that is special to the community is haunting and here, as with elsewhere, Dorris does less with more. I think it is because there is so much left out here and throughout that the ending has such an impact.