"'Do you think he's dead?'
"'No. Watch his stomach. It moves when he breathes. See? He's not
dead. Why would he be dead?'
"'I don't know. I mean he was starving to death yesterday.'
"'Well, he's alive all right.'
"'What do you think we should do?'
"Lying there, pretending to be asleep under those napkins on my face, I
felt Buddy beside me lift his head. I recognized Luke's voice right off.
The other voice belonged to a girl.
"'I think he's in trouble because he didn't want me to say anything to my
dad about finding him, or making him those sandwiches,' Luke said. 'What
do you think he did?'
"'Who knows?' The girl sounded older than Luke.
"'Do you think he robbed a store? Or maybe he killed somebody?'
"'Nah.' The girl was doubtful. 'He doesn't look like a killer.'
"A sudden heaviness sank into my chest. If she only knew."
That "she" is Nora, a girl Digger's age. And to this point in the story,
Digger's journey back reminds me of the travails of the weasel getting his
comeuppance in the old Arnold Lobel beginning reader, MOUSE SOUP.
THE JOURNEY BACK is a sequel to Priscilla Cumming's RED KAYAK. It has
been nearly a decade since I wrote about the trio of adolescent boys in RED
KAYAK whose actions and inactions are tied to the death of a three year-old
child. Here's a bit of what I wrote about it in 2004:
Brady Parks is a hardworking thirteen-year-old son of a Chesapeake Bay
waterman. He and his two longtime friends, Digger and J. T., are waiting for
their ride to school one April morning when they see that red kayak go by in
"Cupping his hands around his mouth, Digger pretended to call out: 'Paddle
hard, you sucker!'
"He and J. T. exchanged this look I didn't quite catch, and J. T. started
"But I shook my head. 'He shouldn't be going out there today. When he gets
down to the point--he'll fly down the river.' I was sure Mr. DiAngelo
didn't know about how the wind picked up once you left our creek and hit the
open water. Not to mention the spring tides. Sometimes they were so strong
they'd suck the crab pot buoys under. I doubted whether Mr. DiAngelo knew
that; he'd only had the kayak a few weeks.
"'Really, guys. We ought to yell something,' I said soberly."
Although he's quite fond of the man's wife and little boy, Ben, for whom
he's baby-sat, Brady and his friends are not fans of Mr. Marcellus DiAngelo,
who has bought Digger's grandfather's farm, replaced the old farmhouse with
a mansion, and eliminated the boys' access to the surrounding lands where
they've always been able to play, and which Digger had always used as a
getaway from his abusive dad.
"Sneering, Digger stuffed his hands in his pockets. 'Look Brady, if he's
stupid enough to be out there today, he can take what's coming. Besides, he
deserves it.' "
So they don't call out a warning.
And then later that morning, when his father comes to take him out of
school to assist with search efforts, Brady learns that it was actually Mrs.
DiAngelo, taking Ben out for a ride, who had been paddling the red kayak in
those frigid waters. Thus begins Brady's moral journey through this
action-filled page turner.
THE JOURNEY BACK, Digger's story from the next year, is every bit as
action-filled and thought-provoking as the first book. Turns out that Digger
and J. T. have had to do time for what (unbeknownst to Brady) Digger had done
to sabotage that red kayak. Now that Digger has seen for himself on
Visiting Day that his mother is still being physically abused by his father, he
is determined to take matters into his own hands. Sick of life and strife
in the detention facility he's been remanded to, Digger begins his journey
back by way of an escape accomplished via dumpster and garbage truck (that
almost gets him compacted to death). Things only go downhill from there.
Whatever crap he'd been enduring in the detention facility pales in
comparison to what he goes through as he employs whatever means are necessary in
seeking to head back in order to deal with his father. By time he reaches
the campground where young Luke is wondering to Nora whether Digger is
alive or dead, Digger is dealing with a totally-trashed ankle and a case of
poison ivy that has swollen up his face so badly that he can barely see. Not
to mention the incessant hunger and his having been adopted by Buddy, a
stray dog who insists on following him everywhere.
There are no easy answers in THE JOURNEY BACK, which makes it an excellent
book for thought and discussion. For instance, how much is Digger's
abusive father responsible for his son's anger and behavior and how much should
Digger own his behavior? I particularly like how the author sets up a
subplot in which an adult character is performing a very commendable service --
running a foster home for abused horses -- while also cheating the
government by paying workers under the table. Nora is a pivotal character, being
an intelligent young woman who often cuts through the crap. She is seeking
a level of understanding about right and wrong that oftentimes seems to
totally elude these damaged characters we meet along his journey.
An edgy, high interest, intelligent read for middle schoolers, THE JOURNEY
BACK is well-worth checking out.
Ages 12 and up 220 pages
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian California USA