CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015
Seven Dead Pirates: A Ghost Story.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2015.
296 pp., hardcover & ebook, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-815-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-817-4 (ebook).
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Todd Kyle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
He might have fallen asleep, just like that, in all his clothes, except for the book that was placed gently on his right arm. He opened his eyes.
Treasure Island. He looked around. They were sitting on the floor, waiting.
He sighed. Sitting up, he opened the book.
The boy in this story was Jim Hawkins. And, like Lewis, he found himself accidentally in the middle of a pirate crew. Lewis felt a real kinship to Jim, whose pirates were causing him huge amounts of risk and aggravation.
But that was where the similarities ended. Jim Hawkins was the kind of boy Great-Granddad had described—a “bold one,” fearless and decisive. Jim would make things work. He was the kind of boy who solved problems.
But him? Lewis Dearborn?
Lewis Dearborn, 11, moves into an old mansion with his parents after his Great-Granddad dies, willing them the house as long as they live in it for six months. Making a room at the top of a tower into his bedroom, Lewis discovers it is haunted by the ghosts of seven pirates who died in the nineteenth century after their ship was taken over by their enemy, Captain Dire. The pirates enlist Lewis to do what Great-Granddad could not—help them get to their ship, preserved in a nearby marine museum, in spite of their fear of the modern world. Lewis, dealing with bullies at school and distant parents at home, concocts a scheme to get them there on Halloween night. When they discover that Dire and his crew are now the resident ghosts in the museum, it is too late, and an epic battle erupts between the two sets of pirates, resulting in the ship’s being launched into the nearby Atlantic, leaving Lewis’ pirates to reclaim their beloved seafaring ways.
Linda Bailey, a master storyteller, has concocted an adventurous, exciting, and faced-paced story that takes serious elements of a shy child’s life and deals with them in a completely unpretentious way. This is much more than a pirate story. With references to classic pirate-themed literature that Lewis is forced to read to the pirates in his room, this is really a story of one boy’s transformation in the face of a challenge from the world beyond. Reluctantly, slowly, almost despite himself, Lewis changes from a boy so shy he can’t even bring himself to talk in class to one who braves the pirate battle to save his new friends. It is Bailey’s extraordinary skill as a storyteller that keeps the entire fantastical premise, and its meaningful undercurrent, from ever straying into the unbelievable. Seven Dead Pirates is a story that flows almost like magic.
Characterization is top-notch. Lewis is sympathetic, thoughtful and full of self-doubt, a timeless downtrodden child. His new friend, Abbie, is completely the opposite, fearless and uninhibited despite her odd appearance. His Great-Granddad, before his death and in various memories, is a sprightly, winking character who believes in his great-grandson. Lewis’ parents seem a little one-dimensional at first, but his father blossoms into a great cook and dreams of opening a bed and breakfast in the historic house, convincing his austere professor wife to take the plunge. But it is the pirates who are the standouts. Rough and unrefined, speaking in classic pirate grammar, they are almost like unruly children, pining for Lewis to read more about their favorite pirate characters, alternating between violent and gentlemanly tendencies, showing subtle signs of fear and uncertainty, and giving glimpses into the appalling social conditions that pushed them into piracy in the first place. The youngest, a cabin boy Lewis’ age, even turns out to be a girl in disguise, still unbeknownst to her comrades after more than a century.
At times earnest, at times playful, and always infused with the power of imagination, Seven Dead Pirates is a rollicking and exciting story that will entertain and enlighten in equal amounts.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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