Andrew J. Graff's debut, Raft of Stars, is a magnificent saga of friendship, loss and heroism, wrapped in the fallout of war and action, that recalls adventure stories of old. In 1994 Claypot, Wis., 10-year-old best friends Fischer "Fish" Branson and Dale "Bread" Breadwin tear around town on their Huffys and roam the Northwoods, exploring and escaping their respective sorrows. Fish is mourning his military father's death, which precipitates his summer visits to Claypot, to his maternal grandfather, Teddy Branson, widower and Korean War veteran. Bread's father is an abusive drunk they avoid at all costs.
At the local gas mart, Tiffany works the counter, staving off homelessness, bantering with the locals and trying to catch the attention of Sheriff Cal. Cal is new to town, up from Houston where his confrontation with a violent parolee made a fresh start necessary. After Fish shoots Bread's father to stop another beating, the boys pack supplies, leave a note for Teddy and run away to build a raft and live off the land. The life-battered locals join with Fish's stalwart mother, Miranda, in a frantic search for the boys in the Wisconsin wilderness.
As the pairs (Fish and Bread, Teddy and Cal, Tiffany and Miranda) converge at the perilous gorge rapids the boys don't know exist, they learn about themselves, each other and the things that are most important. Graff's nature writing is absorbing, and his characters generate a yearning to know them. Raft of Stars is a quest story full of heart and humor. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review