When I booktalk to students at my school, I usually bring in around 7 books and display them in the front of the room, resting on the whiteboard ledge, or on some students’ desks. Then we talk about books for a few minutes and the booktalking begins. I ask who would like to pick a book and students must decide what they want to hear me talk about based on…the cover of the book. Typically, I bring in books students have never heard of before, because I see that as my job – to inform teens about books they have no knowledge of. So as a result, the only thing students can base their decision on is the cover!
I did that for this book The Raft, by S. A Bodeen. The cover of this book will almost guarantee students will be picking this book out fast when I take it into a classroom to booktalk it. After all, that is why I picked it to take home and read over our winter break. HOWEVER, I have a feeling the author must have cringed when she saw the cover. My mother is an author, so I understand the angst that can go into an author’s wait for a cover. Most times, the author has little or no say over the cover of the book. This does depend on publishers in general, so experiences can differ widely, but even well known famous authors can have their covers miss the mark. Now, what do I mean by this? Well, in The Raft, Robie is a bit of a rebellious teenager, at the age of 15. She is staying with her cool aunt (cool as in awesome) on the island of Honolulu to get a break from the monotonous life she leads with her parents and other scientists on the small island of Midway Atoll. While she is with her aunt she gets her hair braided into cornrows and her nose pierced with a diamond nose ring.
Now, here is where the illustrator of the cover messed UP! On the cover the girl in the raft has her hair totally down – nary a cornrow in site – and no pierced nose. I actually was reading the book, waiting for her to say she took her hair out because that cover was driving me crazy with being inaccurate. Now, I realized that I might be nitpicking here – but really, is it too much to ask the cover designer to actually READ the book first before trying to make up a cover. Shessh.
That being said, you should not let the cover (which is a good but INACCURATE cover) distract from a fascinating look at a girl who makes some bad, and kind of stupid choices, and perhaps ultimately fatal ones in this book. Robie wants to prove she is a competent teenager when her aunt has to leave her to go on a business trip. Not wanting to head back to be with her parents on Midway Atoll, Robie says she’ll be careful and a friend of her aunt’s is supposed to check in on her. When things don’t go as smoothly as Robie thought they would she decides to head back to Midway Atoll. A series of mistakes lead to Robie in a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, fighting for her very survival against the odds. A nice twist which most other readers will probably have figured out long before I did (or perhaps like Robie I just didn’t want it to be true) keeps things interesting and leaves the reader wondering exactly how Robie will move on – share her secret or keep it close.
Recommended for grades 6th and up.