Crossing the Water: Eighteen Months on an Island Working With Troubled Boys -- a Teacher's Memoir

by Daniel Robb

Fifteen minutes off the beautiful coast of Woods Hole,
Massachusetts, sits an island, part of the Elizabeth Islands,
called Penikese --- and the school where Daniel Robb worked is
named for the island on which it is located. Working with troubled
teenage boys, Robb ends up as a modern-day "Sir" or Mr. Chips --- a
schoolmaster who understands all too clearly how difficult the
lives of his students are, trying to speak their language, trying
to gain their respect, trying to help them find hope in the midst
of an everyday struggle. CROSSING THE WATER is a first-person
narrative of Robb's adventures in boysitting.

The kids are toughs and come across like Boston-accented versions
of The Jets from "West Side Story." They are not too tough,
however, to try to revive field mice with CPR or explore their
heartfelt feelings with Robb in private. Like any
brave-young-man-trains-the-improverished-tough tale, there are good
days and there are bad. But unlike the S. E. Hinton novels, in
which some of the boys' personal stories echo, CROSSING THE WATER
does not build these boys' lives into dramatic revelry --- instead,
Robb's impressions of them ebb and flow like the waves outside
their school grounds, and he learns more from them than perhaps
they learn from him.

Just because their every other word is a provocative obscenity,
don't write these kids off. The things they want to discuss with
their teachers (at one point, they want to talk about swallows!)
will surprise the reader --- these kids have brains and seem to
enjoy using them, in their own fashion. Along with studying the
three R's and other academic pursuits, these kids have to tackle
the Sturm und Drang of their own lives, too, in relation to
what they see happening around them. Their honesty, and the bravery
they exhibit by that honesty, will move even the most jaded

Robb's story may be one that we have heard variations on before,
but the scene is very different --- in the isolation and beauty the
island presents, some young boys who never had hope find their
hearts and souls in sand and trees and the quiet understanding of a
teacher who truly wants to help.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011

Crossing the Water: Eighteen Months on an Island Working With Troubled Boys -- a Teacher's Memoir
by Daniel Robb

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743202384
  • ISBN-13: 9780743202381