As I was reading Paul Griffin's new novel ADRIFT, a news story was unfolding --- two teens disappeared from the Florida coast while out in a small boat. That real-life drama, as well as the author's admission that some of the events in ADRIFT were inspired by his own teenage misadventures, makes the seemingly larger-than-life premise of the novel seem perhaps not so outlandish after all.
Matt and John, two working-class Italian-American best friends from Queens, are working in the Hamptons over the summer to make some extra spending money. When the boys wander over to a private beach in the hopes of selling ice cream bars to the wealthy, Matt immediately hits it off with the beautiful Driana, who, at a party later that night, introduces him to her cousin Stef and Stef's boyfriend JoJo, both from Brazil.
Griffin offers readers a bang-up adventure story, full of all the immediate and pressing drama of survival.
Stef is as bold and impetuous as John is cold and distant, so when she "borrows" a Windsurfer late that night and takes it out on rough seas, no one is really surprised. Still, the four other teens know that they're going to need to help her get back on dry land. When their haste, combined with Stef's carelessness, results in their small boat drifting off shore without enough gas to get back to the mainland, it's just the start of a two-week odyssey that will leave none of the teens undamaged or unchanged.
As the drama among the desperate teens plays out aboard the boat, readers gradually learn that Matt and John have been through trauma and tragedy before --- could this new ordeal be a chance for them to remedy the horrible things that happened then? Or will the same bad decisions that led to that tragedy just come back to haunt them now?
The teens' harrowing adventure plays out one day at a time, interspersed with police transcripts that chronicle the increasingly unlikely attempts to find them alive. They'll encounter sharks and hurricanes as well as more prosaic enemies like dehydration and starvation --- and they'll constantly be wondering who, if anyone, they can trust.
Parts of ADRIFT can verge on the predictable (the teens who survive, for example, are exactly the ones you would expect to do so) and contrived (each of the teens seems well-prepared to deal with some aspect of survival, be it medical assistance, desalination or fashioning a harpoon). But parts are anything but predictable or contrived, particularly the relationships between Matt and John and between Matt and Driana, both of which prove far more complicated than most readers might expect. In ADRIFT, Griffin offers readers a bang-up adventure story, full of all the immediate and pressing drama of survival. But ADRIFT is simultaneously a story about survival of a different kind, about living through trauma and finding ways to live with oneself afterwards.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 7, 2015