"Read this book," my 12 yr. old ordered me. "I'm pretty sure you'll like it. I liked it a lot."
And I did indeed like it a lot. And, I learned a lot about sea voyaging in the late 1700's too.
Hesse based her tale on fact -- there was really a young boy named Nick Young who "appeared" on the roster of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour quite a few months after the ship had left England, but before it had put into any port. Hesse guessed that he had been a stowaway and was discovered once it was too late to put him ashore.
Nick's story is told in the form of his journal entries for the entire voyage, each of which provides a date, a latitude and longitude (in measurements of Capt. Cook's time, which means that if a reader were to want to follow Nick's journey on a globe, one would have to do a little math), and an approximate location in words.
In Hesse's imagination, but perhaps this is truly how it happened, once Nick is free to show himself, he makes himself useful as assistant to the ship's physician, writing tutor, and friend to the Goat and the dogs and many of the sailors.
Captain Cook proves an adept leader and for many months of the three year journey; he kept nearly everyone on board alive and healthy. But seafaring was risky in those years. There was violence; the close quarters of the ship required stringent enforcement of rules -- punishment was by lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails or worse -- and Nick does lose many shipboard friends to accidents and disease. My usually very sensitive daughter accepted these sad events because, she felt, they were the historical reality and also because Nick helped us experience them through his accepting (if sometimes tearful) eyes.
Because the tale is told in the voice of a boy, it is not challenging to read. However, Nick does have a strong grasp of sailing terminology and 18th century turns of speech. The glossary at the end of the book and the maps on the inside covers are useful additions.
-- Emily Berk