(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
A shy boy comes to life and finds his voice when the ghosts of seven dead pirates appear in his bedroom. A humorous, inspiring adventure with poignancy and depth, destined to become a middle-grade classic!
Lewis Dearborn is a lonely, anxious, “terminally shy” boy of eleven when his great-grandfather passes away and leaves Lewis’s family with his decaying seaside mansion. Lewis is initially delighted with his new bedroom, a secluded tower in a remote part of the house. Then he discovers that it’s already occupied — by the ghosts of seven dead pirates. Worse, the ghosts expect him to help them re-take their ship, now restored and on display in a local museum, so they can make their way to Libertalia, a legendary pirate utopia. The only problem is that this motley crew hasn’t left the house in almost two hundred years and is terrified of going outside. As Lewis warily sets out to assist his new roommates — a raucous, unruly bunch who exhibit a strange delight in thrift-store fashions and a thirst for storybooks — he begins to open himself to the possibilities of friendship, passion and joie de vivre and finds the courage to speak up.
[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy from the publisher at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]
Obviously middle grade novels aren’t my specialty but I think everyone can remember when they were in this target age group. With that said, Seven Dead Pirates is a book I would have loved when I was younger. Even as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Our protagonist is Lewis Dearborn, a perpetually shy boy of eleven who is helicoptered by his frantic mother and father, who seem to think he’s made of glass and will break at any second. They think he has all manner of health problems and so are completely obnoxious about it, stifling his social growth both at school (where they frequently come in and embarrass him) and at home. In the beginning of the novel this is particularly bad and you would expect Lewis to have almost no real personality but he does. When he’s alone you really get the feeling that he’s an intelligent, sensitive and curious young boy who wants to get out from under his parents’ stifling presence and explore a bit. Even if it’s just in the old house his great-grandfather bequeathed to them, stipulating in his will that they had to live in it for 6 months before they were able to sell it. Just before he dies, Lewis’ grandfather tells Lewis one thing: “Libertalia”. What is Libertalia? Well, when Lewis finds out he is in for quite the adventure.
What I really loved about Seven Dead Pirates is that although in the beginning all seven of the dead pirates in question are pretty stereotypical pirates but turn out to be three dimensional characters. They’re really not all they seem to be and their real personalities shine through their rough, gruff personas that are designed to impress Lewis and maintain their reputation. And really, all they want is to be able to go to their old ship, which is housed in a museum nearby. The only problem? They haven’t been out of the house in centuries and whenever they try to sneak out as invisible ghosts, cars and other strange things frighten them so they turn visible, thwarting the whole “stealth” aspect of the plan. It’s quite funny how Lewis figures out a workaround to this and at the same time it shows his cleverness. He even disobeys his parents in order to bring his plan to fruition, learning a lot about himself in the process.
The plot isn’t exactly fast-paced but it is funny and interesting. The story itself is not so overly complicated that an 8 or 9 year old couldn’t follow it but there are some scenes that I personally think would be nightmare-inducing at that age. (Or at least it would have been for 8 or 9 year old me.) Which of course firmly sets Seven Dead Pirates in the middle grade novel range. The really good thing about Linda Bailey’s book is that I think it can be enjoyed by anyone on very different levels. Younger readers can enjoy the adventure aspects while more mature readers can also enjoy the moving personal journey Lewis goes on as he discovers some of his independence. And adults can thoroughly enjoy the humour and creativity that Bailey incorporates into the novel. Basically, you can’t go wrong with this book. There’s truly something in it for everyone.
I give this book 5/5 stars.