Mheir and I have been going through a bit of a pirate phase, in honor of our recent Caribbean vacation. So I bought him Pirates!, a young adult novel by Celia Rees. Of course, I had to read it, too. Pirates! is the story of Nancy Kington, the impetuous daughter of a wealthy 18th century sugar merchant and slave trader. Nancy grows up in Bristol, England, more or less untamed after the early death of her mother, and in love with her childhood friend William, a sailor. Upon her father's untimely death, however, Nancy's brothers and stepmother conspire to marry her off to a wealthy and sadistic older man. She is sent to the family sugar plantation in Jamaica, where her suitor, Bartholome, plans to seek her hand.
At the family plantation, Nancy is appalled to learn how her family's fortune has been built on the suffering of slaves. She meets and comes to care for two slaves, the housekeeper Phillis and her daughter Minerva. Eventually the situations with Bartholome and with the vicious overseer at her own plantation come to a head. Nancy, Phillis, and Minerva are forced to escape into the wilderness. Still running from Bartholome, Nancy and Minerva become unlikely pirates, and close friends. As pirates, they have many adventures and escapades, while struggling to find their place in the world.
Pirates! is an exciting read, featuring two strong and resourceful heroines, and lots of swashbuckling adventure. It casts a realistically grim light on the slave trade, and might be a bit dark for younger children. But it's an excellent book for young adults. Rees includes plenty of historical detail, but never so much detail as to overwhelm the story. Her characters are realistic, with fears and insecurities, but are also (where applicable) brave and loyal. The book opens up potential discussions about the role of women, the nature of friendship, and the way that people of different races are treated. The paperback edition includes a reading group discussion guide, as well as an interview with Celia Rees and a glossary of pirate terminology. I highly recommend this book for anyone (young adult or adult) looking for history and/or adventure.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.