Stowaway by Karen Hesse, copyright 2000.
Illustrated by: Robert Andrew Parker
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New from Munro’s Books
Reason for Reading: Recommendation of a Friend
Several months ago, I was inquiring on Pink Sheep Cafe about Young Adult reads. At the time, I hadn’t read a great deal of YA fiction and was asking for suggestions. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a primary school teacher, suggested Karen Hesse’s Stowaway. The book is a favourite with some of the kids she teaches. The recommendations I most enjoy taking are those from friends, though, unfortunately, I find they are seldom very good suggestions. Stowaway was an exception to that; it was quite good. I was also pleased to discover that it’s not actually a YA book, rather it’s geared to the 10-14 audience. I was thankful for that as well, as I have found myself somewhat exasperated with YA stuff as of late.
It’s common knowledge that Captain Cook made his first voyage with H.M.S Endeavour in 1768 to take astronomical readings in the Southern Hemisphere and to secretly search for a new continent. What is not common knowledge is that Endeavour carried an eleven-year-old stowaway by the name of Nick Young. This book is the fictional journal of the very real youngster and represents a true account of Cook’s journey. Nick has been running from things for most of his life. He ran away from school and he ran away from his apprenticeship as a butcher. Desperate to get away, he pays three sailors to hide him away on Endeavour. Once the ship is deemed to be far enough from land, so that Captain Cook will not dump him off and send him back to England, Nick comes out of hiding and is presented to the Captain. He is assigned to help the ship’s doctor and, having had some education, has great success in his new post. As the ship makes its way around the globe, Nick makes new friends, sees new lands and receives an important lesson in the value of family and hard work.
“We have a good wind and fine weather, my sea legs have been restored, and the Company is well pleased to be under sail. Tupia and Tarheto talk about a land to our south where demons live who dine on men and are violent in all things. I do not believe there are such demons. There were no monsters at Cape Horn, nor did the warriors of Bora Bora ever show their faces. I am not afraid.” Stowaway, page 104.
Previously, I had known something of Captain Cook’s later journeys, but knew very little of this first one. When I started reading the story, I mistook it for one of those later expeditions and kept waiting for Cook to be killed. Once I had looked it up on Wikipedia, and discovered that the Captain wasn’t going to die, the book lost something of its lustre. By the end though, I was really quite taken with the story.
Exploiting the story of Nick Young is a brilliant way to educate kids about the travels of a great explorer. While the journal itself is fictitious, Nick’s story is not. When kids know that something is truly possible for someone their own age, they sit up and take note. Hesse doesn’t do this in any sort of a boring fashion either. Nick’s journal is full of drama as the crew comes upon foreign lands, encounters fierce natives and faces the wrath of fatal diseases.
The only beef I really had with the book was that, occasionally, I found some of the details of the voyage to be a bit monotonous and my mind would drift off momentarily as I read. In that sense, the 300 pages used to tell this story probably could have done with a little trimming, but overall it wasn’t a problem.
RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd