The Voyage of the Frog
is a middle-grade novel by American author Gary Paulsen, first published in 1989. It centers around a fourteen-year-old boy named David, whose beloved uncle Owen has recently died after a quick battle with cancer. Owen left David his twenty-two foot sailboat, named “The Frog,” and left his nephew with one final request - to scatter his ashes out at sea, beyond the view of land. David, who learned to sail from Owen, feels obligated to carry out his uncle’s request despite being fearful of heading out into the open water alone. Along the way, he’ll be tested like never before and discover an inner strength he didn’t realize he had. A coming-of-age story that explores themes of overcoming fear, dealing with loss, and relying on oneself, The Voyage of the Frog
received positive reviews and was considered a strong entry in Paulsen’s extensive series of books focusing on young people in survival situations.
As The Voyage of the Frog
begins, David Hatcher is deep in grief over the loss of his favorite uncle, Owen. Owen taught David how to sail, and the two of them spent many hours together on the sea. David was always a little scared to go too far out away from land, but being in the company of an experienced sailor made him feel more confident. Now Owen is gone, after a swift battle with cancer, and has has left David two things in his will. First is his boat, the Frog, to his favorite sailing partner. Second, he has asked David to take on the task of sailing out onto the open sea with his ashes and sprinkling them in the ocean off the Southern California coast, beyond where land can be seen. David is overwhelmed with the task, both because he is scared to take on such a journey (and he suspects this is Owen’s way of giving him a push to overcome his fears), and because he can’t believe Owen is gone. He looks at the urn of ashes and is shocked to think that everything Owen was fits in this urn. However, he knows that Owen is giving him a gift, letting him say goodbye in a way only he can.
David sails off as planned, and heads out to the spot beyond where he can see the land. There, he tearfully says goodbye to Owen and sprinkles the ashes into the water, collecting his courage for the sail home. However, nature has plans other than the smooth sailing he encountered on the way there. A massive storm sweeps in out of nowhere and throws The Frog off course. Owen gave David a lot of advice for what he should do if he’s ever caught in a storm, so he’s able to stay calm and collected at first. However, the storm is strong, and David is tossed around the boat, sustaining a head injury. It takes all he can to keep his composure as the boat begins to flood. He sees sharks gathering around, and although they can’t get to him yet, he knows that if he’s tossed off-board they’ll be on him in a second due to his bloody head. He manages to bail water out of the boat and keep afloat until the storm passes, but by then he’s massively off-course. After a dark, scary night, he’s left to figure out how to get home.
David is a good sailor, and it’s as if Owen’s voice is in his head guiding him. He rations his supplies, and tries to enjoy the beauty of nature around him. One day he wakes up to whales playing around his boat, and is amazed by their natural beauty. Despite his skills as a sailor, he has no way to find his way back home. Convinced he’s going to die, he makes a list not of what he misses back home, but of what he hates. That gives him the focus he needs to concentrate on his mission, and he survives until he encounters a research ship. They give him supplies and point him in the right direction. He begins heading home, with new skills at sea and, more importantly, a greater ability to survive whatever life tosses at him. He knows that, although Owen is gone, the lessons and gifts his uncle gave him will be there forever.
Gary Paulsen is a popular American author of young adult and children’s books, best known for books in the coming-of-age genre dealing with surviving the wilderness. He is the author of more than two hundred novels, as well as a wide variety of magazine articles, short stories, and plays. He is perhaps best known for the Hatchet
series, also known as Brian’s Saga
, a series of five books about a boy’s struggle to survive after being stranded in the wilderness by a plane crash, and how the experience changes his life. An avid outdoorsman and sportsman himself, Paulsen is a three-time Newbery Honor winner, and the 1997 winner of the American Library Association’s Margaret Edwards Award for his lifetime work in writing for teens.