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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Pirate Apprentices and Young Adults


Cover Art: Polaris
Polaris
By Michael Northrop
Scholastic, 2017, ISBN 978-0-545-29716-5, $16.99

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Owen Ward eagerly watches the coast of Brazil from the deck of Polaris. Heís certain the crew distrusts him, perhaps even dislikes him, because heís the captainís nephew. This is particularly true of the other boys, since he holds the coveted position of cabin boy, while their duties are mundane and irksome. The launch disappeared a week ago, when eight of the shipís best sailors transported his uncle, the first mate, the shipís doctor, and the odd botanist upriver to collect specimens from the exotic flowers and trees.

Henry Neap, the botanistís apprentice, was deemed too scrawny for an arduous journey. He also searches for the boatís return; when the botanist chose him for an apprentice, he finally belonged. On the ship, he keeps clear of Owen, who reminds him of the bullies who persecuted him at school. When Henry spots the launch, itís half-empty and among the missing are the botanist and shipís doctor. Which means he alone . . . again.

A single trunk is hauled up and given to Obed Macy, a strong boy who rarely comes up from the dark stinky hold. Ordered to stow the trunk, he takes it below and doesnít return. One of the returning sailors stumbles aboard and, over the next few days, grows clumsier and sicker. Angry whispers spread among the crew until finally, the captain orders the men to gather on deck, but locks all the boys except Obed in his cabin. Soon after shots are fired, and Owen knows that his uncle is dead.

After a time, the ship becomes eerily quiet. The boys force open the door to their prison, but no one is on deck. The crew set the ship on fire and fled in the launch. The boys stop the flames before they ignite the gunpowder, which would blow the ship to smithereens. Henry wonders why the mutineers abandoned Polaris. Owen takes command, knowing itís up to him to take the ship home. But there are only five others left to help him sail Polaris: Manny and Mario Iglesias, hardworking brothers who share a secret; Aaron Burnett, the exceedingly slow and cautious powder monkey; Thacher Maybin, the new hold rat with the scarred face; and Henry, who is totally useless when it comes to working the sails and doing other ship-related tasks.

Another problem to overcome is the low food supply. Whenever they go below to bring some up, they encounter a strange smell, hear odd sounds, and feel as if something watches them. But if they can work together, they might just get home despite the fact that none of them know much about running a ship. If they make it through the storms. If the leaks donít get bigger. If whatever lurks below, stays there.

Polaris is a spine-tingling tale of historical science fiction. The intended audience of this Junior Library Guild selection is students in grades three through eight, but even adults will find themselves sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath as they turn page after page. Northrop takes factual elements from the 1830s and spins a plausible Ė yet terrifying and compelling Ė story that is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

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Review Copyright ©2018 Cindy Vallar


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