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Eternal on the Water

Eternal on the Water

  • reading group guide
Cobb, a devoted teacher and nature-lover, takes a sabbatical from his New England boys prep school seeking to experience what Henry David Thoreau and the transcendentalists did in the early nineteenth century. Kayaking to the last known spot where the American writer and philosopher camped four years before he died, he encounters the beautiful free-spirited Mary. Also a teacher, avid bird-watcher, and deft adventurist, Mary is flirtatious and beguiling, and the two soon become inseparable. Mary is like no one Cobb has ever met before, but he gets the feeling that she is harboring a secret. Eventually she shares her fears with Cobb—that she may be carrying the gene for a devastating, incurable illness that runs in her family. Finding strength in their commitment to one another, the two embark on a journey that is filled with joy, anguish, hope, and most importantly, unending love.

Set against the sweeping natural backdrops of Maine’s rugged backcountry, the exotic islands of Indonesia, scenic Yellowstone National Park, and rural New England, Tender River is a timeless and poignant love story that will captivate readers everywhere.
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  • Gallery Books | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439168332 | 
  • February 2010
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Read an Excerpt


I FIRST SAW MARY ON THE HIGHWAY well before we reached the Allagash. I saw her near Millinocket, the old logging town on Maine Route 11. I noticed her truck first, a red Toyota, and I noticed the yellow kayak strapped on the bed. We both had New Hampshire plates. I also had a Toyota truck, green, and a yellow kayak strapped on top of a truck cap.

Toyota love.

She pulled into an Exxon station. I passed slowly and watched to see her get out. But she fumbled with something on the seat next to her and I couldn’t see her face.

Her hair was the color of cord wood. She wore a red bandanna that sometimes... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Eternal on the Water includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Joseph Monninger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When Jonathan Cobb takes a sabbatical from teaching to go out and experience nature as Thoreau did in the mid-nineteenth century, he does not expect to meet the love of his life, any more than Mary expects to meet him. But from their first camp side meeting, they know they are soul mates. Set against the sweeping natural backdrops of Maine’s rugged backcountry, the exotic islands of Indonesia, Yellowstone National Park, and rural New England, nature plays a key role in their romance. But their story is tragic as well as inspiring as their perfect love falls beneath the shadow of her impending fatal illness, and he must help her make an important and difficult decision.

Questions for Discussion

1. Cobb has taken a sabbatical from teaching to learn from nature. Specifically, he wants to kayak down the Allagash, along Thoreau’s path. How do you think Cobb’s trip into the unknown alludes to or is a metaphor for other aspects of his life?

2. Early in the book see more

About the Author

Joseph Monninger
Photograph by Jon Gilbert Fox

Joseph Monninger

Joseph Monninger has published several award-winning YA novels and three books of nonfiction, including the memoir Home Waters, and has been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He lives and teaches in New Hampshire, where he also runs a dog sled team.


Author Revealed

Joseph Monninger
Q. how did you come to write Eternal on the Water?

A. I took a solo trip down the Allagash several years back.  It's 90 miles through some beautiful land in Maine. The river runs north.  On that trip I met some wonderful people and even the little girls who would serve as a model for the Chungamunga girls. When I began thinking of a love story, I imagined it on that river.

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