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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  17,197 ratings  ·  983 reviews
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 an ...more
Paperback, 372 pages
Published March 5th 2003 by Picador (first published January 1st 1987)
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Mariah It's the story of three generations of women in a Native American family - and how they cope with various life events. The story is split into three b…moreIt's the story of three generations of women in a Native American family - and how they cope with various life events. The story is split into three books: one for the daughter Rayona, the mother Christine, and the grandmother Ida. The more you read into the story the more the puzzle pieces fit together about certain events within the story and why the characters act in a certain way. Really amazing and currently my favourite book!(less)

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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  17,197 ratings  ·  983 reviews

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Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There's something peaceful about envisioning a yellow raft in blue water... Can you picture it? Maybe a warm summer breeze with the heat beating down on you. Serenity. Calmness. Or the vision of that raft floating in all kinds of weather be it torrential winds, waves or the gentle lapping on a windless day. It's solid but prone to taking a beating. It may be chipped or falling apart, but its pieces remain intact, holding it together. A symbol for family, perhaps.

This is the story of Rayona, Chr
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
"You know, it's strange, you live in a place half your life and yet the sight of it from an unfamiliar angle can still surprise you, it was as though I had never before seen that building, so small and hollowed out against the treeless land."

This quote can be true about a home or a place often visited that we may cherish, or perhaps even abhor, when brought forth from our memories. I also think the same can be true about a person, or persons, that we find ourselves inextricably linked to in our
Diane S ☔
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Three generations of women, the complicated relationships that can be found between mothers and daughters. The novel starts in the present and is told backwards. Starts with young fifteen year old Rayona, trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs, taking care of her mother Christine. Christine who loves too hard and unwisely but tries to be a better mother than she felt hers was. Ida, her story pulls everything together, the reader can then put all the pieces together, cause and effe ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an emotionally dense tale of three generations of American Indian Women. It's basically one story told three times from a different POV.
First we hear 15 year old Rayona 's story, who feels everyone has deserted her and now even the one ever-present person in her life, her Mother has abandoned her. Next we hear the version by her mother Christine, who while battling her own demons , basically raises Rayona ,her mixed race daughter, as a single mom alone through difficult times. Lastly we
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Dorris weaves a moving story of three generations of Native American women, whose lives are complicated and twisted, and whose love for one another is buried beneath misunderstanding and lack of communication. At the outset, we are told the story of Rayona’s life, through Rayona’s eyes. She is the half-Indian, half-black daughter of Christine. Her mother seems dissociative and somewhat cruel, and my reaction was to have no sympathy and very little understanding of a mother who would beha ...more
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one, really
So, I made it about halfway through this book before throwing in the towel. Here's why:
1. I'm used to loving a book, or at least being invested in the characters enough that it's hard to put it down. That was not the case with this book. I read it because I had nothing else to do. But stopping at any point was not difficult, and I didn't feel strongly compelled to pick it up again.
2. The story was slow moving, without beautiful prose to make up for the lack of plot. The writing was only so-so.
Carol Brill
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it
What kept this from being a 4 or better for me is an ending I didn't find satisfying. It's a skillfully plotted story with strong writing, well-rounded, sympathetic female characters and a strong sense of place and tradition. This is my second time reading this book, the first time was 10-15 years ago. The strength for me is that it is about 3 generations of mothers and daughters and told in sections from each of their POV. It starts with teenage Rayona's POV, moves to her mother, Christine, and ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Next time I’m tempted to wax poetic about how great fiction editing used to be, or to worry that a poorly conceived new release is evidence of the profession’s demise, I’ll remind myself of this book. This distinctively 80s mess of unrealized potential and terrible editing choices.

This is a family saga, beginning in Seattle with a biracial teenager, Rayona, whose mother, Christine, suddenly decides they are going back to Montana, to the reservation where Christine grew up. The first large chunk
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
A high 4.5 stars. I am still considering bumping it up to 5. I really enjoyed this book. Narrated first by the granddaughter, then the mother and the conclusion by the grandmother, this book depicts the struggles of the three generations of women in this contemporary Native American story. Each character's viewpoint contains heartache and secrets. The women are all stoic and brave when faced with adversity - coping in their own ways. I loved them all - Rayona, Christine and Ida. But, especially ...more
Jan Priddy
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I taught this novel to high school juniors for many years so I have read it over and over, many chapters out loud. One year I had a young man in my class who did not like reading, but agreed to read the first few pages, which got him hooked. He could relate to Rayona and her anger with her mother who drank and partied hard. The student brought the book to me and said, "I can't read the next section because Christine [the narrator of the middle section and Rayona's mother] is too much like my mot ...more
Betsy Robinson
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Three women, who are three generations in an American Indian family, tell their perspectives on the same story and reveal secrets.

I had technical difficulties for the bulk of the beginning and middle: I didn’t believe the actions of a priest after he committed a no-no and I didn’t believe he got away with it without questioning or consequences. I could not suspend my disbelief when the 15-year-old, who had almost no horse experience, suddenly rode a bucking bronco in a rodeo. And I found the voi
Jul 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those studing perspective and/or Native American culture
I must start off this review by saying that, due to lots of input from those who loathed the book with a fiery passion (the juniors from last year who, like myself this summer, were assigned to read Yellow Raft for English III). So before I began this book, I was expecting a trip to Hell and back in the form of tedious writing and hokey plot twists. Now, being that I'd like to think that their oral review had little to no effect on my opinion, I will continue with my blog.
It's no surprise that t
Socket Klatzker
I have complicated feelings about this book. I read it about 15 years ago, as a high school student. I loved it. I always used it as an example of men being able to write from women's perspectives in an effective way. Previously, I found that I did not get into other male author's attempts, but really felt like Dorris captured female voices honestly especially around objectification and sexualization. I put him in a category of empathic and clear thinking; I put him on a pedestal of the compassi ...more
Jan Livingston
May 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book has characters that touch your heart and stay with you. I finished this several days ago and still and putting together new ideas and interpretations over the story.
It really highlights the frailty of humanity as well as the deep, abiding damage that can come from secrets; even well intentioned secrets.
the characters live in a world if missed communications which have disastrous long term consequences. the end of the story has a bright, shining candle of hope but it is not certain and
Everly Anders
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
What I loved about this book was that it was broken up into three sections, each one of them about a different character, a girl, her mother, and grandmother. Every time the point of view changed you felt differently about the caracter. Plus the dialogue was great, we could all learn something from this author.
reading is my hustle
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Cross generational story about three women living on an Indian reservation in Montana. Outstanding.
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I liked the beginning a lot. I wasn't too keen on the author's rather awkward literary device of switching narrators. Unsatisfying conclusion. ...more
Ginny Dodge
Jan 12, 2009 rated it did not like it
After reading A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, I found myself unhappy with the literary merit of Michael Dorris’ novel. The story of three women of Native American descent in the Oregon and Montana area was stated to be a monumental novel. My original belief, upon reading the reviews in the front of the book, was that the novel would be an uplifting portrayal of three women’s journeys throughout life. Unfortunately, my reading appetite was not sated. The typical vocabulary and unexciting plot line l ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I whole-heartedly loved this novel. It's a formidable saga of women spanning three generations that is beautifully layered and absolutely unforgettable. It begins with Rayona, my favorite of the three, a young girl of 15 that is as level-headed and independent as she is hardened by circumstance. Her story begins as she struggles with the contradictory natures of her relatives. Half black and half American Indian, she is undeniably striking and exudes both an inner strength and sullen attitude as ...more
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book looked promising and I started out hoping for a really good read. However, there was a lot of the plot that just left you hanging and much of it that I felt was just "silly". Divided into three points of view, some of the characters' stories were much more compelling than others. Unfortunately, all in all I didn't feel like the book was worth the time it took to read. ...more
Donna Craig
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well, I honestly didn’t expect to love this book., it turned out to be deeply moving. It is the story of three generations of Native American (Hopi?) women. The interesting thing is that the story is narrated in turns by each woman, beginning with the youngest, then moving to her mother, and, finally, her grandmother. I was intensely captivated by the telling of the same stories in each woman’s perspective. Boy, was I wrong about the grandmother! I NEVER saw that coming! This book skillfully dem ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
"I am stopped, halfway down the trail, with my eyes fixed on the empty yellow raft floating in the blue waters of Bear Paw Lake. Somewhere in my mind I've decided that if I stare at it hard enough it will launch me out of my present troubles. If I squint a certain way, it appears to be a lighted trapdoor, flush against a black floor. With my eyes closed almost completely, it becomes a kind of bull's-eye, and I am an arrow banging into it headfirst."

These are the thoughts of 15-year-old Rayona, d
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is a novel I won't soon forget. Set in Seattle and Montana, it tells the tale of three Native American women--Rayona, Christine and Ida--each in her own voice. They are related, a family, and their worlds intersect and tear apart, span out and braid back together, but it is not until the ending that the reader fully understands how the events which start the novel have come to pass.

It is told in reverse, starting with the youngest, Rayona or Ray for short. At first,
Apr 26, 2007 rated it liked it
I got creeped out after the author killed himself and more truth came out about his life and his treatment of his foster children. Makes me wonder what really inspired his work as well as that of his wife, Louise Erdrich. At the time I enjoyed the book.
Mar 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookgroup
He presented the extreme poverty, isolation, and addiction on the reservation in an almost offhand way; these things were mentioned in passing, but in a way that made a big impression on me. I liked his writing but the book didn't totally hold together. There were some characters and some plot elements that didn't work for me. ...more
Book Concierge
Dorris braids a single story told in reverse chronological order, from three unique perspectives. Rayona, a 15-year-old “half-breed,” begins the story, relaying her efforts to raise her own irresponsible mother. We then move to Ray’s mother, Christine, who recounts her struggles growing up and rebelling against her unaffectionate mother, Aunt Ida. Finally we hear from Aunt Ida, the matriarch of the family, whose secrets have shaped her daughter and granddaughter in ways she never intended.

Jun 06, 2020 rated it liked it

I have mixed feelings about this book. For me, it felt a little outdated and not all that relatable. Part of that may be that the book is pretty old. Another part is that I know very little about the lives and cultures of any native american groups still living on reservations, and the book was very slow to explain any of it. I thought they were Indian for a short while. To be fair, they’re only ever called Indian. Did native Americans really refer to themselves as Indians? I wouldn’t know. They
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've had this book for almost a year waiting to use it for whatever reading challenge I was working on, but I haven't been able to squeeze it in anywhere. So I finally just read it. This was a sad little story, but I absolutely loved the descriptive strokes. I think the author nailed human nature in vivid way.

The 3 MCs were 3 generations of Native American women. I enjoyed each of their sad little stories and they felt well told. However, I'm not sure I liked the format. Each of the 3 POVs were
Aug 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
At first the tale seems straighforward. A teenage girl has an irresponsible mother who abandons her to a cold-hearted grandmother who doesn't want her either. Life on a remote and poverty stricken Indian reservation in Montana has never been easy, especially for a teenager who is half African American. Almost nothing in this absorbing tale is as it first appears. Everyone is holding secrets. Slowly, ever so slowly, events take on new meaning and the characters gain our compassion. The three fema ...more
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
We are given the story of three generations of women told in reverse chronological order. Difficult mother-daughter relationships characterize each story; the wounds of adolescence cripple them from being a good mother to their own daughter. This novel focused on adolescent struggles, even when we were hearing from adult characters, they retained an adolescent voice, perception and focus, giving this book the feel of a young adult novel. The characters never quite came to life for me, despite va ...more
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Michael Dorris was a novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and author of books for children

The first member of his family to attend college, Dorris graduated from Georgetown with honors in English and received his graduate degree in anthropology from Yale. Dorris worked as a professor of English and anthropology at Dartmouth College.

Dorris was part-Native American through the lineage o

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“Don't ask so many questions and they will all be answered.” 11 likes
“How long does it last?" Said the other customer, a man wearing a tan shirt with little straps that buttoned on top of the shoulders. He looked as if he were comparing all the pros and cons before shelling out $.99. You could see he thought he was pretty shrewd.
"It lasts for as long as you live," the manager said slowly. There was a second of silence while we all thought about that. The man in the tan shirt drew his head back, tucking his chin into his neck. His mind was working like a house on fire
"What about other people?" He asked. "The wife? The kids?"
"They can use your membership as long as you're alive," the manager said, making the distinction clear.
"Then what?" The man asked, louder. He was the type who said things like "you get what you pay for" and "there's one born every minute" and was considering every angle. He didn't want to get taken for a ride by his own death.
"That's all," the manager said, waving his hands, palms down, like a football referee ruling an extra point no good. "Then they'd have to join for themselves or forfeit the privileges."
"Well then, it makes sense," the man said, on top of the situation now, "for the youngest one to join. The one that's likely to live the longest."
"I can't argue with that," said the manager.
The man chewed his lip while he mentally reviewed his family. Who would go first. Who would survive the longest. He cast his eyes around to all the cassettes as if he'd see one that would answer his question. The woman had not gone away. She had brought along her signed agreement, the one that she paid $25 for.
"What is this accident waiver clause?" She asked the manager.
"Look," he said, now exhibiting his hands to show they were empty, nothing up his sleeve, "I live in the real world. I'm a small businessman, right? I have to protect my investment, don't I? What would happen if, and I'm not suggesting you'd do this, all right, but some people might, what would happen if you decided to watch one of my movies in the bathtub and a VCR you rented from me fell into the water?"
The woman retreated a step. This thought had clearly not occurred to her before.”
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