1. The Sea. The book begins with a journal entry by Sophie. She describes how the sea has called out to her since she was little, and how—despite being told she was too young by adults—she followed the call, going out in dinghies and motorboats, and learning how to sail. Sophie then describes a nightmare she’d have of a towering black wave creeping up on her, nearly crushing her, but she always woke up just in time. Sophie says she always felt like she was floating when she awoke from the nightmare.
At the start of the book, we learn that Sophie has a mysterious relationship with the sea. Though the water calls out to her, it also routinely haunts her as a violent wave in her sleep. This push-pull relationship will echo throughout the entire book—Sophie unexplainably longs for the sea, but it also pushes her away with an equally mysterious force.
2. Three Sides. In her next journal entry, Sophie writes that her father calls her “Three-sided Sophie,” because one side of her personality is “dreamy and romantic,” while another is “logical and down-to-earth,” and the third side is “hardheaded and impulsive.”
Sophie’s unique and often exotic way of thinking gets foregrounded here—we get a sense that the people around her perceive her to be complex, multi-faceted, and somewhat unpredictable.
Sophie tells us that she’s thirteen years old, and that she’s going to sail across the ocean with her uncles and cousins to visit her grandfather, Bompie, in England. She says that her uncles Stew and Mo tried to dissuade her from joining them on the trip—they told her that the boat wouldn’t be “a very pleasant place for a girl.” Uncle Dock, whom Sophie calls “the good uncle,” supports Sophie’s desire to join them, arguing that she knows more about boats than her two cousins—Brian and Cody—combined.
Already we can see that Sophie will be something of an outsider aboard the boat, largely because she’s the only female crewmember. Sophie’s gender is going to play a large role in determining her status on the ship; though Sophie is clearly very eager to sail and is quite knowledgeable about boats, her crewmembers unfairly stereotype her as someone who doesn’t belong.
3. Slow Time.Sophie writes that the crew of the boat, called “The Wanderer,” is hoping to set sail in June. She also says that her family has just moved to Kentucky from the coast of Virginia, and the only water where she lives now is the Ohio River, which she calls “as sleepy as the town.” The kids in her class, however, love the river, and they don’t understand why Sophie wants to leave to travel across the ocean. One of them says that Sophie just got here, and that she shouldn’t leave because no one knows anything about her, like where she lived before. But Sophie writes that she doesn’t want to get into all of that—that she would prefer to “start from zero,” to start over.
Here we witness what we’ll come to see is a familiar trait of Sophie’s: her desire to erase her past, to leave it behind and start a new life from scratch where she can live in the present moment and not be burdened by her personal history. Sophie’s desire for adventure and her dissatisfaction with things that are quiet and calm is also emphasized here—she’s unhappy with the sleepiness of the town and, compared to the expanse of the ocean bordering the Virginia coast, with the smallness of the Ohio River.
4. The Big Baby. Sophie writes that her father drove her to Connecticut to join her uncles and cousins at Dock’s cottage. She says that she’s been holed up there with them for two weeks, making repairs on their boat, “The Wanderer.” She describes her Uncle Stew as a worrywart, and his son Brian as a “photocopy” of him, the two both placing a lot of value in being highly organized all the time. Sophie describes her Uncle Mo as “a bit on the chubby side” and always lying around tanning instead of helping with the boat, yet nonetheless barking orders. Cody, his son, is “fit and muscular,” and always attracting the attention of girls who pass by the cottage. Uncle Dock, Sophie says, is “easygoing and calm,” unfazed by any mistakes the crew makes when repairing the boat.
Here Sophie starts to give caricatures of her fellow crewmembers, and we can notice that she feels no need to sugarcoat her descriptions—her journal is a place where she can escape from social interactions and say what she feels. We also get a sense of the uneasiness and tension in the atmosphere around her: Stew, Brian, and Mo are making stressful what would otherwise be an easygoing and carefree environment with Cody and Dock. Still, Sophie’s enthusiasm about embarking upon the open ocean isn’t fazed by the fact that her crewmembers can be unpleasant.