Saving Sailor: A Novel

Saving Sailor: A Novel

by Renee Riva


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The year is 1968. After spending the first half of summer vacation driving her Italian family crazy with her fake southern accent, 10-year old A.J. finds a soul mate on the other side of the island to divert her attention.

She is intrigued to learn that Danny shares her same burning desire to know God and realizes that few people her age think as deeply as the two of them do.

However, the depth of their newfound faith and friendship is soon tested when Danny's father betrays his wife.

Set in a simpler time, Saving Sailor is a heartwarming tale of how hearts can change and relationships can be restored with God's help.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781589190917
Publisher: David C Cook
Publication date: 05/01/2007
Series: None Ser.
Edition description: New
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,091,747
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.39(d)

About the Author

Renee Riva has been writing humorous stories since she won a writing contest in second grade. Her two previous titles Izzy the Lizzy and Guido's Gondola both published by WaterBrook Press in May of 2005 and met with instant success—over 4000 sold in four months.

Additionally, Riva is a former greeting card verse writer as well as a speaker for women's groups and Young Authors. She and her husband reside in Richland, Washington with their three daughters.

Read an Excerpt

saving sailor

a novel

By renee riva

David C. Cook

Copyright © 2007 Renee Riva
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58919-091-7


Indian Island

"A. J., you float your little fanny right back to this dock."

"Comin', Mama," I yell across the water. I think we have a family matter we're about to deal with here. Our family tends to have a lot of family matters. If you ask me, it comes from havin' too much family history. There are times I just want to say, "Ix-nay the istory-hay." Nix the history.

For starters: We are a Roman Catholic Italian family, and none of us are allowed to forget that. Anyone who puts that identification in jeopardy is dealt with severely. I was nearly disowned for trying to change my name to Dorothy Jones at school.

To make matters worse, there are two rumors I've had to live with my entire life. One is false. The other true. Contrary to what my sister has told everyone since the day I was born, my parents did not win me in a Mississippi bingo hall when I was a baby. And yes, my real name is Angelina Juliana Degulio.

I am a living legacy of two grandmothers who insist on preserving our rich Italian heritage. My name was settled in a coin toss. The dispute was over whose name would be first. Grandma Angelina won, but was accused of cheatin' by Grandma Juliana. They fight about it to this day.

The name Angelina, I am often reminded, means "angel," and I am the lucky child who gets to bear it. So, whenever someone asks me my name, I say, "Just call me A. J."

I'm workin' my way back to the dock, paddlin' with my arms over the bow of the boat. Once I'm in drift mode, I like to stay there. "Still comin', Mama ..."

The one thing I've gotten away with up to this very moment has been my self-imposed Southern accent. My mama is just beside herself right now from hearin' me yell, "I'm floatin' down yonder, Mama." I'm the only one of her kids to call her Mama instead of Mom or use words like y'all and yonder. I don't do it to make her mad. I just picked it up from those old Western movies I watch. I'm still tryin' to figure out why they call them Westerns when everybody's talkin' Southern.

I think Southern is a beautiful language. I'm almost fluent now, but I have to watch it around Mama. Tends to get on her nerves. The closer I get to the dock, the more sure I am that "down yonder" must've really hit a nerve. You always know when you've gone too far with Mama. You can see the blood rise in her face like a thermometer on a hot day. And it just keeps risin' 'til her true Italian temper kicks in. Like right now ...

"Angelina Juliana Degulio ..."

That's the next clue–she yells the whole embarrassing name.

"No full-blooded Roman Catholic Italian child raised in the Northwest can possibly have a Southern accent. You stop that Southern garble right now before I march you into the confessional at St. Peter's, where you can tell Father Sharpiro how you're dishonoring your family." That's my mama's way of sayin', if I want to stay out here on the water, I'd better zip it with the Southern lingo. If there's one thing I've learned about Mama, she plays life by her rules. You either follow them or you're out of the game.

Her name is Sophia, and she would like everyone to believe that she is The Sophia Loren from Hollywood. When she does herself all up, she comes pretty close. She has those same dark Italian eyes and adds that little swoosh of eyeliner. She even makes a point of getting her hair styled exactly like the actress's.

Mama's favorite game is to fool people into thinkin' she is Miss Loren. She can only go so long before she decides she just has to play this game or she will go nuts. If there's one thing Mama cannot tolerate, it's boredism. We'll all be layin' around the dock readin' or fishin', when suddenly, out of the blue we'll hear, "Miss Loren is goin' to town." Then she hauls us all off the island to go to town with her. We usually go somewhere real crowded, like downtown Squawkomish.

First off, we hit the corner across from the local hangout, Big Daddy Burger. Mama puts on her dark sunglasses, dabs on her Poppy Pink lipstick, and hands me a notepad and pen. "A. J.," she'll say, "after I get over there by that crowd, you all come running up to me holding out that notepad, yelling, 'Sophia, Sophia, can we have your autograph?'"

Adriana is so embarrassed she pretends she doesn't know us, but my brothers love this as much as I do. And, boy, do people fall for it. The next thing you know, everyone is swarmin' around my mama. Folks are pullin' anything they can out of their purses and pockets, even old gum wrappers, to get that autograph. The best part is, Mama says it's not even a sin because when people ask for her autograph she only signs her first name. She also says, "It serves these people right for being so gullible as to think that the real Sophia Loren would be spendin' her time at Big Daddy Burger, in downtown Squawkomish."

After she's done gettin' everybody riled up, we all pile into our turquoise Thunderbird convertible and laugh all the way to The Spaghetti House. Everyone, that is, but Adriana. I guess you can't expect a sixteen-year-old Prom Queen to think that's funny.

I'm watchin' Adriana right now from my boat. I can't believe how much time she spends just tryin' to get tan. That is really all she does all day–just lays there on that dock, with her iodine-tinted baby oil. It really makes no sense to me. She was born with a tan, for Pete's sake. She is already so dark, if you put a red dot on her forehead people would think she's from India.

Sometimes when I look at her, I wish I had dark hair and eyes like she does. I'm the only blondie in the bunch. People talk about Adriana with words like beautiful or striking. I only hear words like cute or names like Freckles when people talk about me. I also have this gap between my two big front teeth that makes me look like the guy on the front of Mad magazine. Mama says, "Who wants a white picket fence for a smile anyway?" The only good thing I can say about it is, I can squirt water between my front teeth farther than anyone I know, which comes in handy when you're livin' on a lake all summer.

I float past the dock pretendin' to be a fountain statue, squirtin' a stream of water straight up in the air. That really grosses out Adriana, which makes it even more fun.

"Take your big fat beaver teeth and go build yourself a dam," she yells.

My sister loves to torment me about my bingo hall beginnings and says that's why I look and talk different from the rest of the family. "What more could we expect out of a Mississippi bingo hall, than a sappy little towhead with a Southern drawl?" She also points out my taste in music: "While everyone else is groovin' to the Beatles, there you are wallowing in 'Moon River.'"

Sometimes, when I feel different from the rest of the family, I think of "Wolf Boy." It's a story I read about this little boy who got lost in the woods and was adopted and raised by a pack of wolves. When his family found him again, he acted more like his wolf family than his real family. I may be different, but I don't think I'm that different. To tell the truth, I wouldn't want to be like Adriana anyway. I would rather be out here floatin' with my dog, not worryin' about what color I'm turnin'. I get tired of watchin' Miss Perfect on the dock. I toss a stick for Sailor, and he jumps right outta the boat and swims after it. Adriana gives me a look like I am just so immature to be playing fetch with "that big dumb dog."

"Hey, Adriana," I yell, "can't you think of anything better to do than waste your whole day layin' in one place for a stupid tan?" Then I remind her that true beauty is more than skin deep and maybe she should spend more time workin' on the inside.

She just yawns like it is hardly worth her time to respond, then says, "Oh, A. J., why don't you go join a convent or something?"

I smile when Sailor gets out of the water and shakes all over her. Wouldn't surprise me if they could hear her screamin' clear on the mainland. I load Sailor back into the boat. "Good dog," I whisper.

It doesn't bother me what Adriana thinks of my music, or anything else I happen to like. I am what Daddy calls "a hopeful romantic." I watch all those Westerns with The Duke and just melt over the steamy love scenes where he's kissin' his girl.

Daddy tells me not to settle for anything less in a man than what I see right there on that TV screen. "You get yourself a man's man, A. J. There's a world full of wimps out there who will put on a pair of cowboy boots and call themselves a cowboy. You just make sure you find the one who can actually ride a horse."

I have never told anyone this, but, I have got the biggest crush on Little Joe Cartwright, from Bonanza. I love to daydream about him. That's one of my favorite things to do when I'm out here in my boat. I just close my eyes while I'm driftin' along, and the next thing I know ... I'm his girl. He's comin' in from a long day of wrestlin' cows out on the Ponderosa, and I'm cookin' up some dead deer stew for him. He comes into my big ranch kitchen and says, "Boy, that sure smells good," with that romantic Southern accent of his. Then he comes over and gives me this big ol' kiss. We kiss so long, the stew just burns away on the stove, and we have to have peanut butter sandwiches instead.

Now, he may not be as big and burly as The Duke, but he is cute, cute, cute. That goes a long way in my book. Besides that, he can ride a horse.

Right in the middle of my daydream, I hear the sound of our boat engine and open my eyes. My daddy must've gotten off work early today, because he's pullin' up to the dock, and it's not even four o'clock yet.

"Everybody in," he yells. "We're going for a ride."

I hear Adriana moan. She does not enjoy these family outings one bit. But Daddy had a talk with her last night about how we are a family, and like it or not, she needs to try and be a part of it. Then he told her how one day she will look back and miss these days, to which she rolled her eyes.

My daddy's name is Sonny. He's the park ranger at Indian Lake State Park on the main shore. We get to stay out here from the time school lets out in June, 'til it starts up again in September.

Daddy likes to call me Ficuccia. He was fed up with all the rivalry caused in choosin' my name, so he just came up with a name of his own. Ficuccio means "little fig" in Italian. Ficuccia would be a little girl fig, which is much easier to live up to than an "angel."

Daddy's a big man with thick black wavy hair and deep blue eyes. When he's pullin' away from the dock, a ray of sunlight hits his eyes. They look just like two blue jewels shinin' back at me. "Daddy, what did the girls think of you when you were young?" I ask him.

He glances over at Mama, then says, "I was a knockout in high school. Your mother had to fight all the girls off of me just to get me to notice her." Daddy gives Mama a big grin and starts to laugh.

"Sonny Degulio, that's a bunch of hogwash and you know it. There were so many boys swarming around me, I couldn't see through 'em all to have even noticed you were alive." Then she adds, "You wouldn't have had a chance if my mother hadn't forced me to marry you. You were her only ticket to Roman Catholic Italian grandbabies."

Daddy smiles at Mama. "Admit it, baby. I was hot. The Italian Stallion, remember?"

Mama just rolls her eyes, but she's smilin' too. I think Daddy won Mama because he can make her laugh. Nobody can make Mama laugh the way Daddy can.

A lot of folks out here own their own cabins and boats, but we are renters all the way. My daddy says, "Why would I want to buy a boat when I can rent the African Queen every summer?"

When a boat full of girls go by, J. R. yells, "Duck down," to my little brothers. "We look like a boatload of sissies."

We are the only family I know on this lake with a pink boat. But Daddy says this was just like the boat they used in a famous movie, The African Queen, and we should sit up tall and proud when we pass other boats. "They only laugh because they're jealous."

So Mama says, "Well, Sonny, since you're feeling so high and mighty in your pink boat today, let's see how tall and proud you look when this big fancy yacht up ahead passes by."

Daddy looks at Mama real sly, then grabs his ranger hat. He jumps on the bow of the boat and pulls his ranger pants up to nearly his chest. Now his ankles are stickin' out with his bright green socks. He's just standin' out there with his face to the wind in his ranger hat, lookin' ridiculous. He's stickin' out his chest and holdin' his pants up by his thumbs, just waitin' for that yacht to pass by us. We are all howlin' so bad, we can't even hide our heads.

So here comes the yacht right close to our boat, and people are lookin' at us like we are from Mars, and Daddy yells, "Afternoon, gentlemen. I know what y'all are thinkin', but there is no way we will trade our African Queen for your yacht, so don't even think about it."

Now Mama's laughin' so hard she just rolls right off her boat cushion onto the floor. That just makes us laugh harder. But Mama can't stop, and she sure as anything can't get up off the floor. So Daddy hops down off the bow to help her up, but she can't even take his hand. Then Daddy asks, "What's so funny, darlin'?" with an accent just like mine.

Mama can hardly talk, but she squeaks out, "Do you know who that was?"

Daddy says, "No, Soph, I don't. Why don't you tell me?"

So, Mama squeals, "Dr. Starky ..." and she's laughin' so hard now she's cryin'.

The reason that might seem so funny to Mama is because Dr. Starky already thinks we're a pretty nutty family, even before Daddy yelled from the bow in his high-waters. See, we've only been here for one month, and we've been to Dr. Starky's three times. The first time was when Benji got a fishin' hook caught in his bare back when Dino was casting. He was screamin' like a banshee. We couldn't pull it out without tearin' up his back, so we just cut the line and walked him into Dr. Starky's office with a fishhook stickin' outta his back.

Then on the Fourth of July, J. R. shot off a bottle rocket that went haywire and singed off part of his eyebrow. He was lucky he didn't lose his eye, but that put the kibosh on our Fourth of July. So once more we visited Dr. Starky with a weird injury.

Then, just last week, Dino had the great idea of pretendin' the island was his own private jungle, and Benji was the intruder who needed to be trapped and tortured. Once Benji stepped into his lasso, Dino pulled it tight around his ankle and dragged his captured prey back to base camp for Chinese water torture. Unfortunately, along the way, he was dragged through a beehive, at which point Dino dropped the rope and ran for it, leavin' Benji to fend for himself. Benji came screamin' through the woods, followed by a swarm of bees and his rope in tow. By the time he reached the cabin, he had so many bee stings Mama just threw him in the tub and soaked him in baking soda and meat tenderizer. A few hours later his whole face started to swell. When he walked into Dr. Starky's office, Benji looked like somethin' from My Favorite Martian. By the time Mama stopped laughin' at him, Dr. Starky was lookin' at her like she was just the worst mother in the whole world to laugh at her son like that.

What Dr. Starky doesn't understand about our mama is, when she starts to laugh about somethin' you really aren't supposed to laugh about, tryin' to stop only makes it worse. She said she's been that way since she was a kid, and has gotten in a lot of trouble for laughin' in school, church and libraries, even at funerals. Daddy's gotten pretty good about walkin' her out of those situations once it starts, because when she gets to laughin' like that, she's too weak to get up and run out herself.

After Mama recovers from seeing Dr. Starky on the yacht, she says, "Well, Sonny, if that man didn't already have enough doubts about this family, you just clinched the deal for us." She tells Daddy that the best part is yet to come because Daddy has to go to his office to get his mandatory tetanus shot for work next week.

Daddy says, "Well, maybe I'll just wear my Smokey Bear outfit for the occasion."


Backstage Actress Act I: Scene 1

None of us have any idea where Daddy is takin' us, but he had us girls throw on our sundresses before we left, so it must be someplace pretty fancy. Once we reach Jasper's Cove, he pulls our boat up to the dock right outside of Smitty's Tackle Shop. "Fishin'? We're goin' fishin'?" I ask.

"Nope. Everybody out," he yells.

We all end up on this dock down at the end of the lake, surrounded by Western shops that look a hundred years old. You kind of expect The Duke to come walkin' down the street and lay a "howdy" on ya.

"This way," Daddy says, and we all fall in line behind him. Mama pulls out her Hollywood sunglasses, and I'm thinkin', Not here, Mama, oh please, not now.

She just looks around like she's not sure what we're in for either. Then Daddy takes us all across the street to this big wooden building that has a reader board on it:


"A play," I yell. "This is a playhouse, and we're goin' to a play."

Adriana gives me a look. I can't help it. We have never been to a real playhouse before.


Excerpted from saving sailor by renee riva. Copyright © 2007 Renee Riva. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Drifting: Indian Lake, Idaho July 1968,
1. Indian Island,
2. Backstage Actress Act I: Scene 1,
3. Sisters, Saints, and Sinners,
4. True Confessions,
5. Juniper Beach,
6. Saving Sailor,
7. Turnin' Ten July 20, 1968,
8. Exposed,
9. Mama's Pink Villa,
10. Sand and Surf,
11. Blessed Are the Poor,
12. Betrayal,
13. Downwind,
14. Solitaire,
15. Dear Friends and Deer Heads,
16. Big Island Bash,
17. Mouth of Babes,
18. Crosswinds,
19. Grace,
Epilogue: (For all you hopeless romantics out there),
Drifting Again: Indian Lake, Idaho July 1976,
Author's Epilogue,
Author Interview,
Saving Sailor Readers' Guide,

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