Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned a Ph.D. in biopsychology from the University of California, Berkeley and wrote a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). She has also authored six novels, including the Washington Post and International bestseller, True Places. Sonja lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
“Families, like ships at sea, sometimes founder on hidden rocks and begin to break apart. Which is exactly what happens to the Vergennes family in Sonja Yoerg’s luminous The Family Ship. Only a heart of stone would be immune to the charm of the Vergennes children, all nine of them. Yoerg offers this large, disparate crew to the reader with the wisdom and compassion of a consummate storyteller. And she tops off the tale with one of the most exciting finales I’ve read in years. I recommend this book with my whole heart.” – William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of This Tender Land
Pull-out: “Luminous…I recommend this book with my whole heart.”
Publishers Weekly starred review: “This richly drawn and insightful story demonstrates an exceptionally deep understanding of family relationships.”
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
On the Chesapeake Bay in 1980, ex-Navy man Arthur Vergennes transforms an old oysterboat into an elaborate make-believe naval destroyer and installs his nine children as the crew. When the family is capsized by tragedy, it’s up to Verity, the eldest daughter and reluctant captain, to save them all.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The inspiration came from an episode of the podcast This American Life called The Land of Make Believe. I could not get the story out of my head; the family’s twelve children on wooden “destroyer” in their backyard, all dressed in navy whites, earnestly fulfilling their duties, not quite playing and not quite working. I’ve always enjoyed the children in my previous novels and decide to use this powerful and thematically rich scenario as a stage for as many children as I could manage, plus their parents, of course.
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
The dominant theme of the story is one inherent in large families: the conflict between collectivism and individualism. Each character must grapple with this, either learning to value the bonds of family, or to give voice to what they need for themselves. Through this process, the eleven members of the family each come to understand what family means to them.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
I tell the story from six points of view, five of them children, the youngest only five years old. Creating, differentiating, and balancing all these voices was daunting. I did a lot of character work prior to drafting to ensure that I understood the POV characters and their relationship to each other as the story opened and unfolded.
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
I’m delighted that so many early readers have found the story meaningful and absorbing. I felt it was a strong story as I wrote it, but the acid test is how readers respond to it. During the long slog of this pandemic, I’m grateful to have this book to connect me with the reading community.