Summary and book reviews of Raising Wrecker by Summer Wood

Raising Wrecker

A Novel

by Summer Wood

Raising Wrecker
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2011, 304 pages
    Sep 2012, 304 pages

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Book Summary

Elegant, warm-hearted and utterly unsentimental, Wrecker is a stunning and deeply moving novel about motherhood and mistakes, survival and hope. (Published as Wrecker in hardcover)

Original published as Wrecker in hardcover. Reprinted in paperback as Raising Wrecker.

It’s June of 1965 when Wrecker enters the world. The war is raging in Vietnam, San Francisco is tripping toward flower power, and Lisa Fay – a young innocent from a family farm down south – is knocked nearly sideways by life as a single mother in a city she could barely manage to navigate as just one.

Three years later, she’s alone again. Kids aren’t allowed in prison. And Wrecker, scared silent, furious, and hell-bent on breaking every last thing that crosses his path, is shipped off to live with distant relatives in the wilds of Humboldt County.

Raising Wrecker is the story of this nearly-broken boy whose presence turns a motley group of isolated eccentrics into a real family. Real enough to make mistakes. Real enough to stick together in spite of everything ready to tear them apart. There’s no guidebook to mothering for Melody, who thought the best thing in life was eighty acres of old growth along the Mattole River and nobody telling her what to do – until this boy came along.

For Melody, for Len, for Willow and Ruth, for Meg and Johnnie Appleseed, life will never again be the same once Wrecker signs on. And for Lisa Fay, there’s one thought keeping her alive through fifteen years of hard time. One day? She’ll find her son and bring him home.


It was the middle of the afternoon, January 1969, and a halfhearted rain dampened San Francisco and cast a gloomy pall over the hallways of the Social Welfare building. Len stood waiting for his life to change. He was a skinny man with a long face that showed its creases despite the stubble on his chin and cheeks, and he kept moving his hands from the brim of his cap to the pockets of his jeans as though he couldn’t be held responsible for what they might do if left unsupervised. Finally a door creaked open and a young woman edged into the hall.


Len lurched forward. He stopped abruptly when he saw the boy. This one? He was barely a child. They’d said he was three, but Len hadn’t . . . were three-year-olds that tiny? Len had expected something along the lines of a good-sized calf, seventy pounds or so, take a little muscle to roll— but this kid would have a tough time toe- to- toe with the goose that patrolled the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
These discussion questions are designed to enhance your group's conversation about Wrecker, a heartfelt novel about a group of misfits who form an unusual family amid the trees and valleys of California's Lost Coast.

About this book
Wrecker is three years old and alone in the world. His mother, Lisa Fay, has high hopes for her son, but the temptations of San Francisco in the 1960s land her in prison. Lisa Fay's sister, Meg, gets custody of Wrecker, but a botched root canal has left Meg brain damaged and fully dependent on her devoted husband, Len. It falls to Len to adopt Wrecker, a skittish but fearless child, but Len quickly realizes that he can't manage both Meg and Wrecker at the same time.

Len's neighbors, the tiny ...
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BookBrowse Review


Heartwarming and delightfully different, 23 out of 26 BookBrowse members rate Wrecker 4 or 5 stars! Here's what they have to say:

It is nice to read about good people doing good things for each other. This book follows the characters as they learn to trust again and eventually learn that hope is not a bad thing (Cheri W). The characters are so natural and flawed and three dimensional, you would swear they are real people. Expressively written with great tenderness and affection (Sylvia G).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (443 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Wood (who was inspired by her own fostering experiences) succeeds with surefooted prose; a lush, earthy California backdrop; and a sensitive story of nurturing and family.

Kirkus Reviews

Wood...moves her characters gracefully through trying times, both cultural and personal.

Library Journal

A sweet adoptive-home story with extra heart and lovingly flawed characters, this second novel by Wood will find its home with fans of Jo-Ann Mapson and Pam Houston.

Author Blurb Meredith Hall, author of Without a Map
Summer Wood’s remarkable novel carves its way, sentence by gorgeous sentence, into the great complexity of love and family and community. Her dialogue is so natural and full we feel as though we are illicitly eavesdropping on these complex, flawed, and full-hearted characters.

Author Blurb Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon and Take One Candle Light a Room
Wrecker is a wonderful portrait of a California long lost, but still alive here. Wrecker will wreck your heart and then put it back together again, with the big heart of a chosen family.

Reader Reviews


a different kind of love story
The title evokes images of destruction and abandon, but the story is about repair and acceptance and comfort and wholeness. The intelligence and warmth and depth of this book were a pleasant surprise. I have no reservations in recommending it.

Louise J.

Amazing Story!
I absolutely loved this book!! Wrecker is the story of a little three-year-old boy who was abandoned by his mother after she was put in jail with a 30 year sentence. He was raised by three very different women: Melody, Ruth and Willow. Melody was...   Read More

Veronica Golos

A work of love and words.
This book will get under your skin, just as the boy character, Wrecker, gets under the skin of his adoptive family of eccentrics. But it is in the beautiful language, the beat and rhythm of the sentences, the pull of the plot that Wood really brings ...   Read More

Barb Johnson

I've Been Wreckered
Summer Wood has a keen eye for place, and for the ordinary moments in life that become extraordinary in memory. Here, she aims that astute eye on a ragtag group living on the outskirts of society, each member of the ad hoc family drawn into the same ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Foster Care Statistics in the U.S.

As she discusses in the book trailer below, the author, Summer Wood, was once a foster parent of four young boys (ages eight months through four years) in addition to having three boys of her own. This unplanned experience, she says, is what her novel Wrecker grew out of - the exploration of what happens to a child after he is taken from his mother, how he develops, and who takes care of him.

As set forth by AFCARS, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System, the term "foster care" is defined as "24-hour substitute care for children outside their own homes." This includes "nonrelative foster family homes, relative foster homes, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, and preadoptive homes."

In July ...

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