bloody-jack

Ahoy, mateys!  Although International Talk Like A Pirate Day was officially observed on September 19, it’s never too late to celebrate life on the high seas.  (No kidding, it’s an actual parody holiday originated by two guys known as “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy”; see http://talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/ for details.)  I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to tell you about the title which led me to a life of piracy.  Author L.A. Meyer provides a rollicking introduction to nautical fiction for teen readers in his book Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy.

We meet Mary Faber as a child standing on the street outside her apartment watching the bodies of her parents and sister, who had died in an epidemic, being carted away for disposal.  From That Dark Day (as Mary calls it), she is forced to survive by her wits.  She is taken in by a gang of urchins who are no strangers to Mary’s predicament; they fight to survive on the mean streets of early 19th century London, no easy task indeed.  When disaster strikes the group, Mary jumps at the chance to create her own place in the world.  She disguises herself, hiding her “true nature”, and joins the Royal Navy as a ship’s boy.  Adopting the name “Jacky”, Mary joins in the ship’s adventures of storms, hunger, backbreaking work, pirates, and liberty trips on shore.  She learns how to tie knots, climb rigging, splice line, beat to quarters, and keep accounts; more importantly, she learns how to think on her feet and to look out for herself in a rough, often hostile, environment.  Her biggest challenge is keeping up “The Deception” until she can come up with a plan and the means to survive on land.

Sounds familiar at this point—the author isn’t the first to come up with this plotline by any means.  However, it’s what he does with his plot and his characters which make the difference.  L.A. Meyer creates a vibrant, intelligent, plucky, engaging heroine in Jacky and drops her into a world set against her from the beginning.  He gives his readers a strong, compelling female character that is realistically portrayed—a feature of teen fiction which is growing but still not as prevalent as you might think.  Jacky shows her flaws and is forced to face them.  Meyer depicts his other characters as engagingly as he does Jacky.  He puts them in settings and situations vivid enough to seem as if you are right there.  More importantly, Meyer addresses some important, heavy duty topics within the historical context.  Meyer acknowledges his young characters’ journey through puberty in a respectful, concrete manner.  He shows all sides of living under harsh conditions in close quarters.  He also recognizes the ugly parts of history with accurate portrayals of class, economic, and racial differences.  Meyer has certainly done his historical research, and he pairs it with a sensitivity to the lives of and issues faced by his teen readers.

Bloody Jack is the first in a series of 12 books featuring the title character.  Each book holds as many madcap, death-defying adventures as the first, and each title builds on the tales told in its predecessor.  Meyer takes Jacky & Co. from one end of the Napoleonic-era world to the other.  By the end of the series, the plucky (or foolhardy, depending upon your point of view) heroine has danced the flamenco in Spain, been a privateer, run for her life from the British Navy, studied at a high-society finishing school, served in the French infantry, started a Boston fire brigade, attended the fiercest pirate in the South China Sea, and found herself in the hangman’s noose more than once.  The final book, Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life and Times of Jacky Faber, was published in 2014, a few months after the author’s death.

Jacky Faber’s adventures spurred me to explore new avenues of reading.  I had not read much about life on the high seas—no Treasure Island as a child—but Meyer’s lively descriptions and action scenes piqued my interest.  As a result, I’ve enjoyed nautical fiction (the Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower series) as well as several histories of the Napoleonic era.  Sometimes, the story itself is half the fun of reading; there’s an excitement in falling down rabbit holes of discovery.

Book groups are a great way to fall down those rabbit holes, too.  The library’s Teen Book Club meets monthly, is open to 6th-12th graders, and is free—no registration necessary.  Participants read a book (or audiobook or graphic novel) of their choice relating to the monthly theme then come together to chat about their selections.  Our next meeting is Thursday, October 13, from 6:00-7:00 pm in the library’s Small Meeting Room; bring a brown bag dinner, and we’ll provide the dessert.  The theme of Teen Read Week, which we will be celebrating, is “Read for the fun of it.”  Come and tell us about a book you enjoyed reading—can’t wait to hear about it!  For more information about the Teen Book Club or other teen programs at the library, contact the Teen Department at (417) 623-7953 or teen@joplinpubliclibrary.org  See you soon!

 

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