Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Yellow Raft in Blue Water

by Michael Dorris

Paperback(First Edition)

$15.76 $17.00 Save 7% Current price is $15.76, Original price is $17. You Save 7%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Wednesday, October 24?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.


Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris

Michael Dorris has crafted a fierce saga of three generations of Indian women, beset by hardships and torn by angry secrets, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of kinship. Starting in the present day and moving backward, the novel is told in the voices of the three women: fifteen-year-old part-black Rayona; her American Indian mother, Christine, consumed by tenderness and resentment toward those she loves; and the fierce and mysterious Ida, mother and grandmother whose haunting secrets, betrayals, and dreams echo through the years, braiding together the strands of the shared past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312421854
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 03/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 59,808
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Michael Dorris's adult fiction includes The Cloud Chamber, The Crown of Columbus, coauthored with Louise Erdrich, and the story collection Working Men. Among his nonfiction works are The Broken Cord, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a collection of essays, Paper Trail.

Reading Group Guide

Understanding the Novel

1. Rayona is the first of three different narrators we encounter in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Who are the other two? How are these three individuals connected? That is, how are both their lives and their narratives connected?

2. Who are Rayona's parents, and how does she feel about them? Which parent matters more to her, and why? Describe Rayona (or Ray, as she is also known). How old is she? What are her likes and dislikes? Where does she live? Is she smart? What does she look like? What does she think of herself? And what do we learn of Ray's social, ethnic, religious, and economic background?

3. Near the end of Chapter 2, Ray realizes that, from now until who knows when, she will live on the reservation with Aunt Ida. Then she drops to the ground and begins to "pull weeds out by their roots, scratch them out with my fingernails. I must make the soil smooth, even, without bristles . . . Nothing else matters to me. Nothing but fixing this dirt." Why is Ray so focused on "fixing" the grassy earth?

4. How do most of the characters in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water regard Father Tom? What point might author Michael Dorris be making here about relations between the Catholic Mission workers and the citizens of the reservation? Also, why does Ray in particular have grounds to despise Father Tom?

5. Who are Sky and Evelyn? Where do they live, and what does each do for a living? How do Sky and Evelyn influence Ray's life? How do they help her? What does this couple give to Ray—physically, emotionally, and spiritually?

6. Shortly after Ray meets Sky (in Chapter 5), she tells him that her Uncle Lee died while serving in Vietnam. Sky responds to this by saying, "Each one had to make their own decision." What does he mean by this? How does Sky think and feel about the Vietnam conflict? And how do the other key characters in this novel think and feel about it? Do any of these characters, over the course of the book, change their views in this respect? If so, who? And why?

7. Describe the handwritten letter Ray finds while concluding a work-shift at Bearpaw Lake State Park. Who wrote the letter? To whom is it addressed? What does it say? Why does it matter to Ray? Why does she keep it? And why does she say it is "disturbing in a way I can't put my finger on" near the end of Chapter 5?

8. In Chapters 9 through 16, Christine is our narrator. Describe her. What kind of grade school and high school student was she? And what kind of sister, friend, mother, wife, employee, and so on? In short, what are Christine's strengths and shortcomings as a person? Also, why is her health so poor? How and why—as detailed in Chapters 8 and 20—did Christine "lose her faith" in her teens?

9. How would you characterize Christine's relationship with Lee, her younger brother? How are they alike, and how are they different? Why does she refer to him as "the Indian JFK" on more than one occasion? And why, ultimately, does Christine blame herself for Lee's death?

10. Who is Dayton? What do we know for certain of his relationship with Lee— and what is suggested? What does Christine think of Dayton? And how and why does her opinion of Dayton change over time?

11. Why does Christine fall in love with Elgin? How, if at all, is he different from the other men Christine has dated? What sets him apart? What does she like about him? What does she dislike?

12. In Chapter 14, we find Christine's account of a pivotal time she spent in the hospital, and of how she escaped. These same events are described by Rayona much earlier in the novel, in Chapter 1. Explain how and why the two versions of these events are so different. Looking especially at the point in each narrative where Christine's car breaks down, what does the author seem to be telling us about the relationship between truth and perspective? For what reason does Ray think she has been kicked out of Christine's car (in Chapter 1)? And what is the actual reason for Christine's kicking Ray out (in Chapter 14)?

13. Near the end of Chapter 16, Ray treats Christine to breakfast at a roadside restaurant. At the end of the meal, as Christine observes: "She opened her wallet and revealed a wad of cash, then, embarrassed, tried to stuff it back inside the pocket. A torn piece of notepaper dropped on the table and I retrieved it, afraid she hadn't seen. She took it from my hand, thought a minute, then crumpled it into the ashtray." What is this scrap of paper? Why does Ray immediately take it from Christine and then decide to discard it?

14. What symbolic import, if any, can you recognize in Christine's remark (at the end of Chapter 16): "The program was almost over. Just four songs left."

15. At the beginning of Chapter 17, Ida says: "I never grew up, but I got old." What do you think she means by this remark? Refer to scenes or dialogue from throughout the novel in support of your answer. Also, why does Ida add that she has "worn resentment like a medicine charm" for four decades?

16. In your own view, do the words and deeds of the nuns that Ida and Clara stay with in Denver (see Chapter 18) reflect or refract the novel's overall take on Catholicism? Explain.

17. Why do Ida's memories and impressions of both Pauline and Clara differ from the comparatively sketchy renderings of these two women that we find earlier in the novel? And how, if at all, were your views of Pauline and Clara altered by Ida's recollections?

18. Toward the end of Chapter 19, Ida rejects Willard Pretty Dog, the man she has been living with, taking care of, cooking for, and perhaps falling in love with—the man she has had feelings for ever since childhood. "I didn't hate Willard," she says, "but I no longer wanted him." Why? How did this happen?

19. Why exactly does Ida require that everyone, even her own kids, call her Aunt Ida?

20. How would you characterize Ida's relationship with Father Hurlburt? What do they share? What rituals, secrets, and common experiences connect them as people? And how would you compare and contrast their relationship with that of Ray and Father Tom? Or that of Christine and Sister Alvina?

21. Look again at the last paragraph of this novel. How does Ida's description of "the rhythm of three strands [and] of braiding" echo the novel as a whole?

Questions and Exercises for the Class

1. How would you explain the title of this novel? Having read the book, what does the phrase "a yellow raft in blue water" suggest to you: literally, figuratively, and even symbolically or metaphorically?

2. As a class, explore both the function and influence of memory in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water—especially memory as a key to the mysterious, lost, or forgotten aspects of the past. A famous philosopher once noted that while life must be lived forward, it can only be understood backward. Explain how that idea is or is not illustrated by this novel.

3. Before driving Ray and herself out to the reservation, Christine insists that they both visit a video-rental store. Why? What goal does Christine have in mind by making this visit? Also, what two movies does Christine eventually decide to rent? Why does she choose these two movies? As an outside project, watch both of these films, then write a short essay on what the films say to you personally, as well as what you think they would say or mean to Ray and Christine.

4. Discuss what this novel revealed to you about the cultures, beliefs, traditions, and experiences of Native Americans. What, if anything, did it show you about modern life on an Indian reservation, for example? Or what did it teach you about the recent history of Indians in the West and Pacific Northwest?

5. A few of the characters in this novel are preoccupied with certain aspects of popular culture, especially song lyrics, TV shows, and radio programs. Which characters are so preoccupied, and which songs and programs and such are most important to them? As a class, discuss why the characters in question are taken by these particular songs, shows, etc. What meanings do they attach to them—and why do they do so?

6. Secrecy is a major theme in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Indeed, the novel is rich in secrets. The book might even be understood as three separate yet related confessionals, a trio of overheard voices engaged mainly in sharing and revealing their secrets. But are there any secrets that remain unshared or unrevealed at novel's end? If so, what are they?

7. Three generations are profiled in this story: a granddaughter, a mother, and a grandmother. We encounter three women existing in very different if overlapping moments in American—and Native American—history. Discuss how, if at all, the novel informed you on the changing roles, rituals, duties, rights, and possibilities of women in the 20th century.

8. As noted above, this novel has three narrators, three distinct heroines who communicate their stories via the first-person (or "I") perspective. As an independent exercise, write an additional chapter for this novel in the first-person point of view of one of its secondary yet important characters—be it Lee, Dayton, Elgin, Clara, Pauline, Papa, or another of your choosing. Try to capture the voice, personality, and outlook of the character you have chosen when composing your fourth perspective for A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. (Your extra chapter need not appear at the end of the story, and it need not read as a conclusion, sequel, or epilogue; rather, it can go wherever you want to put it. Be creative.)

9. Write an original, imaginative story—on any topic you like—in which multiple narrators are employed to tell and re-tell a (more or less) single tale from multiple perspectives. As author Michael Dorris does so movingly and convincingly in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, try to weave together or intertwine the events and ideas of your multiple narrators.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Yellow Raft in Blue Water 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
slightlyfan on LibraryThing 6 days ago
I read this book for school and surprisingly liked it. It is the story of three generations of girls from the same family. Its amazing how three very different people from the same family can influence eachothers lives. It had a good story and iteresting characters, but it did run a little long. But it does pick up.
readaholic12 on LibraryThing 6 days ago
I felt a sense of place, I related to the characters, I marvelled at the construction and the revelations of this story that peeled back its layers like an onion. You read the story from the perspective of the granddaughter, then see the truth through the eyes of her mother, and ultimately the grandmother. The structure of this novel left me on constantly shifting ground, reassessing my assumptions about the truth of each characters' experience and I was mesmerized and moved deeply by this novel.
tracyjayhawk on LibraryThing 12 days ago
A fantastic novel with multiple layers of literary elements. The braiding motif is the foremost of these, and Dorris masterfully weaves the lesser elements of the story within that motif. A great inter-generational story.
Chancie More than 1 year ago
A uniquely written novel, and while it wasn't my cup of tea, it's worth a read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
helper27 More than 1 year ago
It starts with the youngest persons life story and then works it's way back in generations. Rayona is a third generation Native American girl who never quite seems to fit in anywhere. Her father is a black man, her mother Indian. Her parents separate while Rayona is very young. Rayona is raised by her mother who likes to party and likes her men. We see life through the eyes of a teenager. Rayona is looking for love and acceptance but always seems to come up short. She does find one couple who takes her in and helps her find her way back home. Christine is Rayonas mother. She is a tough, good looking Indian woman that is up to any challenge a boy can throw at her. She seems to need to prove she can beat the boys. She also uses her looks to hook up with any man she pleases, even married ones. She does not feel guilty about what she does. Life on the reservation is difficult and Christine dreams of leaving. Christine is very fond of her brother Lee and their relationship is a close one. Christine moves off the reservation to Washington state. Christine lives the life of her choosing. Lee enlists in the army. Christine gets word that he is MIA. She meets an army man in a bar in Tacoma. The man comforts her and gives her hope that things will be alright for Lee. The army man is due to be discharged in two weeks, his name is Elgin. Christine and Elgin become intimate. One day at a park in Washington they create Rayona. Elgin says no baby of his will be born without the two of them being married. They marry but within a couple months after Rayona's birth Christine moves out. Out of sight does not always mean out of mind. Neither of them ever seems to get completely over the other one. An interesting story unfolds. Christine eventually leaves Washington and goes home to the reservation. There she leaves Rayona with Aunt Ida and walks away. Aunt Ida is an interesting character. She is mother to Christine and Lee but never lets them call her mother since she isn't married. Ida insists on being called Aunt Ida. We find out about Ida's life. We view her past and get the stories behind Christine and Lee and how they came to be in her life. She is a solitary figure that isn't overly warm. She speaks only Indian and keeps her conversations short.
vampirefantaiccc More than 1 year ago
I wasn't entirely sure if it would be one that I would be able to finish, then again it was on my summer reading list, so I would have to put up with it if it got dull. But it didn't. It did the exact opposite. It got more interesting. Christine annoyed me from Rayona's point of view. And Aunt Ida annoyed me from both Rayona and Christine's point of view. But I think somewhere during her section (Aunt Ida's), I started to like her better. She had so much more to tell than either of her descendants, although they weren't as direct as we thought them to be. I'm so glad that I read this book. It taught me a lot about life. About longing for acceptance and understanding, a desire to fit in, a desire to find and experience true love. Although each theme seemed a tragedy in the book, ultimately, everything turned out fine. The relationships confused me slightly, though. But all in all, this is defiantly a book to read. If it's dull to you at first, just keep on reading it, it'll get better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novel and its overlying plot are readily accessible to readers. The underlying connections and lessons of life are easily overlooked by the younger reader, but the more mature readers will find great depth of meaning and life lessons. Perhaps the most important issue is that the characters and situations are more true to life than many readers would like to admit. Secrets lead to misunderstandings that alter the lives of the three main characters. A great read. My college students enjoy the reading and its interesting layers of meaning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first I cannot say I found this book good or interesting at all for that matter, but once I got into the characters I couldn¿t put it down. Yellow raft in blue water is about three characters told in three separate stories first Rayona a 15 year old girl dealing with the normal problems of being a teenager as well as her mom ¿Christine, leaving her with the mysterious ant Ida and being a mixed ethnicity in a all Indian reservation. Than Christine: the connector of the stories. About all the problems she had, most of them having something to do with her brother lee or Aunt Ida. Than finely ending with Aunt Ida I won¿t say any thing about this except that it was the most interesting and even more surprising part for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yellow raft in blue water is the story of there women who change because of each other. Rayona the half-black half-indian teen that isn¿t comfortable in her own skin. Christine is Rayona¿s mother a woman who lives a life that she can¿t afford and her health can¿t bear and Ida, Christine¿ mother is a hard cold woman hiding a huge secret. Michael Doris has shown you the characters incredibly well. They are imagintitive and complex, they seem like really people, and you can sort of get in their head. The problem is that it takes a long time to ¿get inside¿ their head. Michael Doris always clearly tells you what they are thinking, but until the middle or close to the end of each part (the story is in three parts each one through the eyes of a different one of the characters) their thoughts just aren¿t that interesting to read about. The other thing is that what they think makes the characters just plain unlikable through out the whole book. Rayona can be bland and submissive, Christine can¿t control her emotions and has a `don¿t-care¿ attitude that really bothered me, Ida is so harsh and negative that even when you hear her side of the story you still don¿t like her that much. I¿m not really the type of person who enjoys books where there isn¿t at least one person who you really like and can feel sorry or happy for. For some people though this is the perfect book. So if you like deep, thought-out, intense characters even they if aren¿t really likeable and a long plot it¿s the right kind of book for you. Because the book is in three parts it hard to know who the main character is. Is it Ida who influences every thing that happens to Christine and Rayona, but not that much happens to her herself? Or Christine, who gets both Ida and Rayona affecting her, but also had her own story to tell? Or Finally Rayona the youngest character who hasn¿t really had that much happen to her yet, but when it had its¿ been dramatic? Each person who reads this book had a different character that they thought was the main or that they liked the most, but you can¿t really decide until you have finished the whole thing. I found that at first I thought Rayona was the main girl and the most likeable, really just because her story is part number one in the book. Then I decided that she was too submissive, quiet, and even a little bit boring so I switched to Christine. Then I felt sorry for Ida, but when I had read them all and was done with that I would have to say that I think Christine is that ¿protagonist¿. She has both Rayona and Ida pushing her in different ways and influencing her, but she still had her own separate story to tell. Also she really shows the clearest changes from beginning to end, making her in my mind the most likeable. It is undoubtedly a good book, but it¿s not really a page turner, stay up late to finish type read. So it¿s not the book for me, but I¿m sure that for some people this is exactly the book for them so don¿t let my opinions stop you from reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is an engaging book, which leaves you wanting more you won¿t want to put the book down! This book is about three generations, ¿Aunt¿ Ida, the grandmother and mother who you can never figure out, who doesn¿t want to be known by not having a husband and especially doesn¿t want her daughter to carry that reputation, Christine the Native American mother in search of a better more exciting life off the reservation, and Rayona, the half black and Indian daughter, who spends the book in search of what she thinks, is ¿love¿ from herself and others. As this book goes back in time mysteries about why things are they way they are, are revealed. The story is very well written and both settings in Seattle and Montana are described in a detailed enough way, that you can picture each scene, without being there. By the end of your story you will be satisfied.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone may have their own opinions about the book, but I have found the book to be very boring and confusing. For me to enjoy a book it would have to really capture me in the beginning and this book failed to do so.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in high school and my entire class loved it. As an English major I have read many books, but still this book remains to be my favorite. I've picked it up recently to read it again and found that it was even more captivating the second time around. I did not think that the book was disgusting. I felt that those portions of the book were necessary and were put there to simply portray some of the ugliness that can occur in society today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yellow Raft in Blue Water is one of favortie books. I thought that it was cool how Dorris wrote about Rayona, Christine, and Aunt Ida. I did not think that it was disgusting or dirty. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really got tired of all the sex and cussing. I understand that that's art, but I never would have read this book had it not been required for my honors English class at school. I couldn't stand it... it was disgusting. I hated it. Books should seriously come with ratings on the back... I'm sick of buying books and finding out that I might as well just go see an 'R' rated movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in high school and recently picked it up again. I was riveted by it then, and am riveted again, 10 years later. Rayona is very likable and easy to connect with. It is such a truthful book in that our problems are not only ours, but will be carried down through the generations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Have you ever had someone in your life that hurt you and you couldn't forgive? Trying reading this book and find out what Rayona did when her mother chose her beer and partying over her daughter. If you have ever went through a part in your life that you felt like no one cared and you didn't know what to do Rayona will let you know.This book has helped me to not give up hope of my daughter and her dad ever bonding because they will some day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Personally I enjoyed reading this book. The story takes place on an Indian reservation in Montana. There are three perspectives that are narrated by each main character how their lives are enter twined with each other and how they seem to not want to have anything to do with each other and return to the reservation to find their lives are together there. I recommend this book to all readers, rather for fun or for a book report.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book. Recommended for all young adults.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although a lot of these reviews say it's great...this is one of the worst books I have EVER read...and that's saying something. I read at least a book a week, so to say that this is one of the worst is bad. I had to read this for an English project and my partners could also barely get through it..It tells you the story from three different points of view, yet the story keeps getting worse and worse each time. It's about a family who has almost nothing right in their life...but it just keeps getting worse.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book one summer while on vacation, and couldn't put it down. Michael Dorris skillfully weaves together the stories of Rayona, Christine, and Aunt Ida, three strong women whose differences often cause conflict. As the women's individual stories unfold, Dorris shows us that things aren't always as they seem to be. This is a very powerful book, and I recommend it highly.