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Gone to Drift is the story of one boy’s unrelenting quest to find his grandfather, Maas Conrad, who has gone to drift in the waters off Jamaica. Lloyd has an unwavering faith in Maas Conrad’s strength of body and will and goes to tremendous lengths to locate his missing grandparent despite the insistence of adults that he give up the search.
Gone to Drift is beautifully told. Lloyd’s voice is strong and his character is very real in his single-mindedness, in his bravery, and in his clear-headed assessment of adult characters. From the very beginning we sense the deep connection between Lloyd and Maas Conrad. Lloyd revers his grandfather and understands that his grandfather’s prowess at sea is the reason he eats each day. When his mother offers him a dinner of fry sprat, Lloyd decides that “his grandfather might be hungry wherever he was, so Lloyd would be hungry too.” His love for his grandfather and his belief that “sea can’t kill my granddaddy” is the conviction that keeps Lloyd moving forward on his search and it is clear very early that Lloyd will not rest until his grandfather is found.
The simplicity of the language and descriptions truly encapsulate the uncomplicated point-of-view with which Lloyd views his own life before the details of his grandfather’s disappearance come to light. “The rain was over and the morning shone. He could see a slice of Kingston Harbour–it was calm.” The novel is directed by Lloyd’s perspective and so the imagery of the sea pervades: “Lloyd thought the uptown people were like sharks, certain of their status, unafraid of other creatures with whom they shared a home, barely noticing them.” This imagery serves to give the reader a greater understanding of the stakes involved in the tale being told. As Lloyd is disappointed again and again by the adults who are charged with caring for him, readers see him grow from a boy who saw obstacles as buildings to be scaled to a self-assured young man ready to make his way through those who stood in his way. “The sea was a hard place, a dangerous place, but a man did not complain, he told himself.”
Gone to Drift also speaks to the issues faced in the fishing industry in the Caribbean. The complex dichotomy between the need to survive from a life at fishing and the reality that over-fishing will destroy that livelihood is an overarching theme of the book. There is a distinct struggle between those who feel that our natural resources exist primarily to fulfill our needs and those who feel that we should be protectors of our environment. Lloyd’s mother, Nicey, is clearly conflicted by these competing interests and reaffirms her wish for her son, even as she makes her livelihood selling fish, “as God is my witness, you nah be a fisherman.” It was a relief to see that most of the characters firmly on the side of protecting our shores from overfishing etc. were not foreign saviours but Caribbean nationals.
Lloyd’s narrative is interlaced with his grandfather’s. In Maas Conrad’s sections the reader learns about his suffering on a uninhabited rock; we are told his life story as exposure and lack of water cause his mind to wander; and finally we are given a very direct exposition of how he came to be stranded. I can’t say I was a fan of Maas Conrad’s reminiscing about his childhood. The reminiscing describes the beginning of the end of the fishing industry, and while there were parallels between what was happening in the present and events of the past, these sections felt unnecessary and I imagine young readers waiting to get past them to the meat of the story-boy’s narrative. In addition, the grandfather’s recollection of the events that led up to his marooning on the island felt a bit forced. As a writer, I understand the difficulties of deciding how to reveal certain details, however, the way in which this was revealed made the resolution of the mystery of Maas Conrad’s disappearance feel a bit rushed and unsatisfying. Criminal actions came into play and there was no hint at how those would be resolved. The novel does a wonderful job of getting readers invested in Lloyd and his grandfather’s plight and they may be left yearning for a clearer picture of what comes next.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this story and rooted for Lloyd and Maas Conrad from beginning to end.
Gone to Drift was a winner in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature