Written by Ohio native Sharon Creech, The Wanderer
, published in 2000, was nominated for the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature and the Carnegie Medal for British Children’s Literature. Creech became the first writer to win both awards in her lifetime—1995 for Walk Two Moons
and 2002 for Ruby Holler
. She has authored twenty-three books for children and adolescents, all of which have received positive reviews.
Home, family, resilience, and self-discovery are major themes in Creech’s work. The fictional Bybanks, Kentucky is based off the real Quincy, Kentucky where Creech visited cousins on a farm, played in a swimming hole and barn, and told stories on the porch late at night, activities she said were essential to the adult she became. Bybanks appears in depth in three other books: Walk Two Moons
, Chasing Redbird
(1997), and Bloomability
(1998). Bybanks is also referenced in The Wanderer
. Walk Two Moons
, like The Wanderer
, features a thirteen-year-old female protagonist whose main goal is to discover who she is and where she fits into her family; she deflects the truth of her past by telling amusing and seemingly tangential stories. Many of Creech’s stories ask how young people can find a stable self-definition and locate happiness within their difference.
Narrated mostly by Sophie, The Wanderer
is told through alternating diary entries from Sophie and her cousin, the benevolent jokester Cody.
The book opens with Sophie’s first diary entry. The reader learns that Sophie is a thirteen-year-old teenager surrounded by male cousins (Brian and Cody) and uncles (Mo, Dock, and Stew -- whose real names are Moses, Jonah, and Ulysses). She writes about her intense fear of the sea, as well as her equally intense wish to join her family on a transatlantic voyage to England to visit distant relatives. Though she loves the idea of the sea, she has a recurring nightmare that a massive wave floats over her. As it starts to rush and descend upon her, Sophie wakes up.
Her male cousins and uncles decide to use Dock’s boat, The Wanderer
, to visit Bompie, Sophie’s grandfather, who may be nearing the end of his life. The crew hesitates to allow Sophie on-board. They think she won’t be able to handle the physical and emotional demands of sailing across the Atlantic; they also believe they will have to act differently if there is a girl onboard. Once Sophie gets her parent's permission, the all male-crew assent.
The crew makes repairs to The Wanderer
before beginning its voyage from Connecticut. To the surprise of the crew, Sophie is great at making repairs.
Sophie admits in her diary that her parents are her foster parents; she was adopted three years ago. She finds herself wondering what happened to her biological parents. Brian and Cody pester her for more information, but she only tells them about a “little kid” whose parents died before changing the subject. She does not admit to them or herself that this story is her own. While sailing, the crew is skeptical of Sophie’s stories, especially the ones she tells about Bompie, because they know she has never met him.The Wanderer
stops at Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, where the crew hears about Uncle Dock’s long-lost love, Rosalie, who is somewhere in England. Their next stop is the southern coast of Canada, Grand Manan, where Cody and Sophie explore a ghost island. The two bond through the adventure, as Cody finds himself wondering more about Sophie’s true origins.
On another pit stop off the coast of Ireland, Sophie’s nightmare comes true when a giant wave crashes into the boat. While shaken, all of the crew survive, but they no longer have GPS or radio and fear they will not reach land again. Everyone changes after the nearly lethal collision with the elements. They begin to treat each other with greater kindness and to not take each other’s lives for granted. When they finally reach England, they are thankful to be on land again.
Everyone is shocked to hear that Bompie knows who Sophie is. He has been sending her letters as she is growing up, and all of Sophie’s “Bompie stories” are true. Sophie retells her stories, and Bompie confirms her memories are true. But when Sophie says that Bompie told her his parents were lost at sea, he sadly cannot say she is right. Cody and Bompie gently suggest that the story might be her own. Facing this realization, Sophie breaks down sobbing.
Her new family supports her through this shocking truth.
The sea, particularly the near-fatal wave the crew experienced off the coast of Ireland, symbolizes her repressed memory of her parents’ death. By exhibiting such courage on The Wanderer
, Sophie confronts and accepts her past.
As they are about to return to America, Uncle Dock tells everyone he will stay behind to care for Bompie. He also hopes to reunite with Rosalie, though when they had met briefly, she rebuffed him. Sophie says she will miss him, but she is ready to lead her own life and tell her own stories.