A Young-Adult Pirate Story That Entertains and Educates
by Gregory Mone
Scholastic. 241 pp., $16.
Arguably, books for young adults are difficult to conceive and market because the age range 12 to 20, as defined by the American Library Association, covers such a wide period of physiological and psychological change. Writing for the young-adult set these days can also prove challenging for authors who choose not to follow the increasing tendency toward edge — the inclusion of content that is sexually explicit and topically raw (drugs, alcohol, violence), even employing rough language. Thus, what Gregory Mone has done in “Fish,” an engaging historical tale about piracy off the coast of Ireland, would seem to go against the current. It does, and it should make a number of parents and teachers happy.
Mone’s young protagonist, Maurice Reidy, who’s known as Fish because he is the only one in his family who’s learned to swim, is almost 12 when the narrative opens. The farming family is dirt poor. Their only horse has died, and Fish, who is the least agriculturally adept sibling, is sent to the city to work for his father’s brother as a messenger, delivering money. He works hard until one day, when he is about to deliver a purse of gold coins to someone at the dock, he is waylaid and robbed. In an attempt to recover the package, he finds himself in the water — trying to save the purse but also a ne’er-do-well who’s threatened him. And thus begins Fish’s adventure aboard a pirate ship, otherwise known as a paperless privateer, until out on the high seas.
Fish’s forced stay aboard the ship allows Mone to offer nuggets of history, along with humor and inventive fun. One pirate loves to make up words such as “putrocious” (a combo for putrid and atrocious), a word game that might spur young readers to make up their own. The tale’s not just for boys. A 13-year-old orphan girl befriends Fish, and he wins the affection and admiration of the other boys on board. Mone draws on young people’s desire for buddies in a way that nicely shows the difference between allies and boon companions. By way of an intelligent and kindly pirate captain, Fish also comes to see that a good captain does not control his men but leads them, and that those who seek treasure with patience and care will be rewarded over the wild and restless of the world. Good lessons all for the pre-teen crowd.
Mone, whose Irish immigrant grandparents furnished a few of the story’s details, attributes the spark of his tale to summers spent on the North Shore of Long Island when he and cousins went roaming for sunken treasure, map and clues in hand. At one time a competitive swimmer, Mone is a contributing editor at Popular Science. This is his first young-adult book, and though it’s obvious that all’s well that ends well will be the conclusion, the story moves along at a lively pace and with an age-appropriate regard for the growing adolescent mind. A fine counterbalance to so many vicious video games. #