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Andrew J. Graff, the author of the 2021 novel “Raft of Stars,” returns with “True North” (Ecco/HarperCollins), a family drama about a schoolteacher’s scheme to save his marriage by buying a run-down rafting company and uprooting his family to Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

Read an excerpt below. 


“True North” by Andrew J. Graff

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They were halfway there. Their new home in the woods. Sam Brecht pulled the brand-new twenty-three-foot Winnebago Brave to the gravel shoulder of County Road A. Darren needed to pee. Sam stepped out into the long grass with his son and took a deep breath. Even the ditches up here smelled the way ditches should, just the way he remembered them smelling, sweet and sandy, with pine in the air. There were pines all over this far north, white pine and jack pine and spruce bordering leaning barbed-wire fences, abandoned cow pastures Sam knew would fill with goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace by summer’s end. The setting sun made a perfect orange-and-purple sky behind all that fresh northern pine. The sun would rise over it too. New horizons.

Sam stepped into the tall grass with Darren. At ten years old, the boy had only known the city, and was a bit shy at first about peeing roadside. North of Green Bay, Sam had had to set the example and go first. The camper had a toilet, but Darren didn’t want to use it while driving, and as long as they had to stop, Sam thought they may as well conserve the water tank. “Let her rip,” he said, and Darren smiled and did so. This move up north was going to be good for him. Sam had purchased Darren a folding green compass that the boy wore around his neck. The compass swayed on its lanyard as Darren leaned forward over the ditch grass. There was so much to show the boy and his little sisters.

Sam finished first and buckled his belt. “See those shoots growing there?” he said. “You know Queen Anne’s lace is really a wild carrot? You can dig down and pull up a little clump of carrots. Your great-uncle Chip from Woodchuck taught me that when I was a kid. Can’t wait for you to meet him.”

Darren pushed his lower lip out and raised his eyebrows, looking at the wild carrot shoots and pulling the waistband of his sweatpants back up.

Swami leaned out the high passenger window of the Brave.

“Check for ticks,” she said.

“No ficks!” yelled Dell, Sam and Swami’s three-year-old daughter, standing with her hands on her hips at the open side door of the camper. Dell had her mother’s dusty blond hair. Darren had his father’s red. The new baby had a tuft of strawberry-colored fuzz.

Darren strode toward the door, shaking his head at his little sister and knotting his pants back up. “No Dell. Ticks with a T,” he said. “T. Tuh, tuh. Ticks.”

“No ticks!” shouted Dell, and then made T sounds—tuh,tuh—as Darren corralled her back up into the camper. Swami peered out the window again, irritation on her face, her arms looped around the baby, pulling the child in close to nurse. “We need to get there, Sam. The kids are going to need supper and bed.”

From “True North” by Andrew J. Graff. Copyright © 2024 by Andrew J. Graff. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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“True North” by Andrew J. Graff

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2/18: The Book Report by Washington Post critic Ron Charles

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