Journey Back

Journey Back

"'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
the  distance.
"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
laughing, too.
"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  

  • 978-0525423621

Recommended by:  Richie  Partington, MLIS, Librarian California USA

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