Bookworm: ‘Raft of Stars’ seizes cozy sense of nostalgia

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Raft of Stars” author Andrew J. Graff.

“Raft of Stars”

  • By Andrew J. Graff
  • c. 2021, Ecco Books
  • $26.99, higher in Canada; 304 pages

You’ve decided to run away. You’re packing your bags, leaving everything behind, you’re out of here. You’ll join the circus or sleep on the beach, change your name and operate a hot dog cart on the corner. You’re escaping everything that happened in the last year or, in the new book “Raft of Stars” by Andrew J. Graff, maybe you’re running from the law.

“Raft of Stars” by Andrew J. Graff.

The morning had started out well. Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin rescued some baby turtles, got dirty, and rode their bikes, doing nothing and everything that summer-gifted ten-year-old boys do on a Wisconsin farm. When it got late, Fish offered to ask his Grandpa if Bread could stay another night, but they both knew the truth.

If he didn’t get on home, Bread’s dad would be madder than normal; Fish had seen the bruises, but that wasn’t something they talked about. Instead, Fish left Bread at home, rode his bike a little ways farmward, and then turned around.

He wasn’t leaving his friend this time.

And, well, one thing led to another and Fish shot Bread’s father. Dead.

They had to run, didn’t they? They’d go ninety miles downriver to the Armory, where Fish’s dad would come home from Iraq and take them away. A tarp, a knife, the murder weapon, a little food, their bikes, and their wits were all they’d need.

Sheriff Cal was told that this kind of thing never happened in Wisconsin. They said that life would be quiet and peaceful, not like Houston, where he’d nearly destroyed his own career. Not the same violence. Not at all. Go to Wisconsin, they said, and times like this, he was sorry he did. He knew nothing about woods or wilderness, but he’d have to look for those boys, and he just wished someone else was in charge.

That was doubly true after he learned that there was a deep gorge at one end of the river, and the boys were headed straight there ...

“They didn’t have fathers. But they had each other.”

And oops, there goes your heart in a million tiny pieces. Busted, and you can absolutely blame author Andrew J. Graff for that because each action his flawed, wonderful characters make is cocooned by words that reflect the kind of gut-wrench you feel when you’ll do anything to see someone not get hurt.

Ah, but you will get hurt. “Raft of Stars” seizes that cozy sense of nostalgia we all have for our childhoods, and it twists it with truth in a plot that moves as you’d expect a lazy summer on the farm to move, if there was an accidental murder involved. It’s intense but not breathless, nail-biting but not terrifying, and predictable in a stop-holding-your-breath way that gives you another minute before you’ll need to gasp again.

Mostly, though, you’ll be so busy savoring this deliciously-written tale that the only thing you’ll truly care about is that this book lingers, like a soft summer night. So, grab “Raft of Stars” and run with it.

“Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players”

  • By Cam Perron with Nick Chiles, foreword by Hank Aaron
  • c. 2021, Gallery Books
  • $27; $36 Canada; 272 pages

Your teeth got a good workout. Yep, as a kid, you wanted those certain hard-to-find, favorite-player baseball cards but you didn’t want to be wasteful. Because you’d do anything to get the cards, you spent your change, hoped you’d be lucky, and you chewed a lot of gum. In the new book “Comeback Season” by Cam Perron (with Nick Chiles), though, the best things don’t come in a pack.

“Comeback Season” author Cam Perron.

It all started with coins. When Cam Perron was a little boy, his grandfather introduced him to coin collecting by taking young Perron to a local Massachusetts flea market, where the boy learned that collectible things had stories behind them. That got him fired up about antiques, comic books, baseball cards, and music memorabilia. Other kids his age might’ve thought his hobbies were odd, but Perron didn’t care; since toddlerhood, he was always more interested in what adults had to say than what his peers thought.

Perron had a variety of interests throughout childhood. He loved playing hockey and dabbled in Little League, but he says that adults ruined his fun in the games. At about the time he entered middle school, Red Sox fever hit his hometown just outside Boston and he talked his mom into indulging his love of Red Sox memorabilia. One day, the collector in Perron took notice of baseball cards for Negro League players, and his curiosity led him to research the stories behind the League; individual players caught his fancy and, with the eagerness of the 12-year-old he was, the white boy from Boston picked up the phone and called to talk with Black players that were many decades years older than he. Astoundingly, Perron became friends with those men, and he began making a name for himself among Negro League players for finding information they thought was lost forever – information that brought recognition, reconnection and, for some of baseball’s most talented, financial refuge.

“Comeback Season” by Cam Perron with Nick Chiles, foreword by Hank Aaron.

“Comeback Season” is a good book that speaks to the heart of every former little boy with a fist full of baseball cards and an eye on a good deal. Hobbyists will completely understand what author Cam Perron says about the “hunt” and why it’s almost the best part of collecting, and his tales of accumulation will thrill anyone who’s relished the nail-biting anticipation of finding that one thing in a surprise place.

The big appeal of this book, though, starts when Perron quiets himself and lets Negro Leaguers talk. Readers who come to this book to learn about Black baseball players in the Jim Crow era are treated to remembrances from these men, in their own words, and their stories and their heartfelt appreciation just can’t be missed. Perron includes a brief-but-helpful history of Negro League ball early-on but really, look for the players’ personal tales.

This book reads faster than a one-two-three inning and, aside from a couple of very minor profanities, it’s safe for a teen baseball fan. So, find “Comeback Season,” play ball, and you’ll show a lot of teeth.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.