Saturday, December 01, 2007
I am such a fan of Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust -- iIt's truly one of my favourite kids' books. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Hesse's Stowaway. It seemed to have all the right ingredients for me -- Hesse as an author, historical fiction, sailing voyages of discovery. The stowaway in this story is young Nicholas Young, who was an actual crew member - and presumed to be a stowaway as his name doesn't appear on the ship's roster until well into the journey -- on Captain James Cook's first voyage of discovery, 1768-1770. Hesse uses a journal format to relay Nicholas's story. Through short entries we slowly gain a picture of our young protagonist, the life he has run from (with ominous references to The Butcher), his life hidden amongst the animals as a stowaway, and then his gradual acceptance as an important and valuable crewmember aboard the H. M. S. Endeavour.
Stowaway is a well-researched book and gives the reader a fabulous sense of how the journey unfolded and its trials and tribulations, but (could you hear the but coming?) I think the use of the journal format was a poor choice. Telling the story through Nicholas's journal doesn't allow Hesse the room she needs to make a gripping narrative. I kept "waiting for something to happen." Of course, there was a lot happening on the voyage, but the journal format never gives us a change to bring out and develop the adventure and the drama of the entire ordeal, and an ordeal it was for much of the time. The only time I sensed a peak in the narrative was as they leave Batavia when one man after another -- and sometimes several a day -- dies.
There is much to learn in this book, however. Young readers will get an excellent sense of shipboard life, of Cook's journeys of exploration, relationship between explorers and native people, natural history (Nicholas often assist's the onboard naturalist, Joseph Banks), sailing terminology, and more. It would make a great read for young readers interested in this era of exploration, sailing adventures, and for teachers as a way to support units on exploration and discovery. As always, these are just my impressions. Here are a few other reviews, from Kids Reads and Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
And here's an interesting article: Consider The Source: Feminism and Point of View in Karen Hesse's Stowaway and Witness. Food for thought there.
Next up for me from Hesse: The Music of Dolphins. I've always wanted to learn how to speak dolphin!