2.24.2013

Drift House: The First Voyage by Dale Peck, 437 pp, RL 4

** I wrote this review in 2009 and was thinking about this book again recently.  Drift House is imaginative and thoughtful and poignant in ways that so many works of fantasy aren't these days so I wanted to introduce or remind you of it. Also, there is a FANTASTIC list of similar books (and links to me reviews) at the end of the review. The criteria being, each series (or stand-alone) features siblings (or, in a couple of cases, best friends) who travel to an unseen world, just like the Oakenfelds do in Drift House.**



As far as I know, Dale Peck's Drift House: The Frist Voyage, published in 2005, is the first book of fiction for children that takes the terrorist acts of 9/11 as a jumping off point from which to tell its story. While this makes for a fascinating start, it serves more as the event that leads the children to their adventure rather than having anything to do with the adventure itself, which I think is ultimately a good thing. For, despite the time specific occurrence in the beginning, Drift House is really a timeless story that has the feel of CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. As in Narnia, there are the familiar mythical creatures and the complete world that Peck creates for these beings to inhabit. Susan Oakenfeld, eldest sister and strong heroine who is faced with momentous decisions she must make on her own reminds me very much of Madeline L'Engle's indomitable Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. In fact, I am sure that Susan's younger half-brothers, Charles and Murray Oakenfeld, are named in honor of one of Madeline L'Engle's most intriguing characters, Meg's younger brother Charles Wallace Murry, a prescient, empathic, adult like child character who was the first of this kind when A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962. And, as Drift House and its sequel prove, Murray is very much like Charles Wallace and then some.

The first line of Drift House reads, "After the towers came down, Mr and Mrs Oakenfeld thought it best that their three children go and stay with their uncle in Canada." Susan, Charles and Murray Oakenfeld, ages twelve, ten and five, are carted off in a limousine, airplane travel being questionable at this point in time, to the aptly named Eternity Bay, Canada and an Uncle Farley that they have never met. But not before we witness a sibling squabble between Susan and Charles. Susan, who was born to a different, deceased father, lived in England the first two years of her life and often speaks in a way that Charles finds, in his words, "affected." Because of this, we are treated to "Charles' Glossary of Affected Words" at the end of the book, with real definitions and humorous commentary by Charles. Susan and Charles are very academic, their interests listed in the opening chapter. One of the aspects of this story that makes their characters more interesting is that, despite their well documented intelligence (Susan has joined the debating team and wants to be a lawyer, Charles travels long distances to go to a magnate high school in NYC for science classes and loves "antiquated technology") when faced with danger and indecision, Susan and Charles often end up learning a new skill or reaching within themselves for the insight and courage to persevere and succeed. In this way the children of Drift House remind me of the Pevensies from the Chronicles of Narnia - both sets of siblings find themselves in a completely new land with new rules where they take on personality traits and characteristics that are not required of them in their own world.

The Drift House of the title is the current home of the children's heretofore unknown (because of his wandering the globe researching temperology or the science of time) Uncle Farley. The house children find is awkwardly perched on the Bay of Eternity, as if it had just washed ashore. Turns out it has recently washed ashore. Although Drift House had been the home of government officials and a vacation rental in the recent past, it was originally the home of Pierre Marin, the first temporologist, and his scarlet macaw, Xerxes. President Wilson, Xerxes' fully conversational, multilingual descendant and forgetful historian of Drift House, provides a foil for Uncle Farley as well as the occasional bits of important information. Marin built Drift House near the end of the seventeenth century and was a bit of an explorer, inventor and philosopher and, as his portrait hanging in Drift House indicates, possibly somewhat eccentric based on the pirate garb he is wearing for the sitting. Soon after Mrs Oakenfeld returns to New York City, the children wake to find that Drift House has set sail again and are adrift on the Sea of Time and heading towards the Great Drain, Uncle Farley clueless and incapable of piloting the house to safety.

Peck employs some very interesting ancient mythology in Drift House, including the Great Drain. On his website where he provides some fabulous background information on the main characters of his book, he also talks about an "oceanic portal between two worlds that was a staple in ancient mythologies." Farley comes to own the Drift House because he is interested in the chandelier inside it which he believes to be a representation of this whirlpool that drains out of our world and forms a gigantic fountain in the next. Peck notes that some people believe that the Great Drain is what consumed the lost city of Atlantis, while Homer's Odyssey mentions a whirlpool referred to as ""Charybdis." The Great Drain plays a very important part in Peck's story and presents a very interesting philosophical dilemma for Susan, who finds herself forced to make a difficult choice when she finds herself at the bottom of it.

In addition to the Great Drain and it's complexities, the character of Murray, the youngest Oakenfeld on board, and his experiences in the dumbwaiter on Drift House, pose some of the most profound, bittersweet aspects of the story. Among other amazing accoutrements, Drift House possesses a dumbwaiter that, when it is not magically providing exactly the meals that the Oakenfelds and Uncle Farley, who spends a significant amount of his time on board eating, and it shows, desire, serves as a time machine and transports Murray on a mysterious journey that allows the amazing appearance of Murray, now going by the name Mario, age ten, dressed like Aladdin and floating at the front door of Drift House on a flying carpet. Somehow, Murray travels through time and possibly alternate realities and has memories that may or may not be accurate and may or may not help the children to save themselves and Drift House from the menace that awaits them on the Sea of Time.

This is both a gentle, meandering book and a complex, emotional, philosophical journey. Like all great children's literature, it works on many levels. Young readers no doubt will be enchanted by the presence of mermaids, pirates and talking parrots. Older readers will appreciate the constant bickering and competition that goes on between Susan and Charles as well as the personal growth and reaching beyond their known skills to help save themselves and their family that they experience. Adult readers, and astute young readers, will be drawn into the aspects of time, history and human existence that Peck delves into in this spectacular book that should be a classic in it's own time.

Don't miss the sequel:



Other amazing series with siblings 
who travel to unseen worlds...

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle
Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis - a MUST READ.
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi. This graphic novel series is another MUST READ.
Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus (Ok, another MUST READ)
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
100 Cupboards by ND Wilson
Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex



Amazing duos and stand-alones that take siblings to 
incredible unseen worlds...

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin (two-book series)
Seven Sorcerers by Caro King. A top-ten favorite of mine, also atwo-book series)
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (best friends, not siblings, but SO good!)
The Little Secret by Kate Saunders (again, friends, not siblings, but sooo good)
The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks




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