Margaret K. McElderry, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
n her gripping
, Susan Cooper masterfully tells parallel stories of two eleven-year-olds separated in time. In the modern day, we have Molly Jennings, whose father died in a plane crash into the ocean, and whose mother has remarried American Carl Hibbert, resulting in a move - unwelcome to a homesick Molly - to Connecticut. In Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, we meet young Sam Robbins, pressed into the British Navy to serve on the
, eventually to become Admiral Nelson's flagship.
n a family outing to Mystic Seaport, the Hibbert family browse in a bookstore owned by an Englishman from Portsmouth. There, Molly feels impelled to own an old battered-looking
Life of Nelson
. Carl buys it for her and at home, Molly discovers a tiny brown paper envelope hidden inside, enclosing a small scrap of the flag of HMS Victory. Molly - who has a very mild form of epilepsy and calls episodes of the illness
- feels a strong power and giddiness when she touches the scrap of flag. At that moment, without really knowing it, she embarks on a quest.
n the early 1800s, we join Sam as a ship's boy (one of the lowest of the low) aboard Victory. Shipboard life was cruel to pressed sailors, and Cooper makes this clear, but also portrays the small kindnesses that must have made it bearable, including the occasional intervention by a decent officer - even, on Sam's behalf, by Nelson himself. Gradually Sam adjusts to shipboard life and just as slowly his situation improves. Then war escalates, leading up to the famous battle - between British, French and Spanish fleets - of Trafalgar, where we see Sam working frantically as a
n the future, Molly's misery has prompted her mother to take her home to England for a quick holiday with her grandparents - as the visit ends, Molly's grandfather takes her to Portsmouth, where she has another strange - and frightening to all around her -episode on a visit to tour Nelson's flagship. Cooper incorporates fascinating historical and naval details into her story, including the making of ropes needed for ship's riggings ('
the rigging of a big battleship used twenty-seven miles of rope
') and details of the firing of cannon on these seaborn '
usan Cooper tells these parallel tales beautifully and links them in a very satisfying ending that brings closure in both past and present. In her
at the end, she talks about what's fact versus fiction in the story, and recommends further reading. Don't miss
; it's a wonderful read!
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