Bloody Jack: Being and Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy
L. A. Meyer
Young Adult Fiction
Ages 14 and up
Harcourt, 2002, 0-15-205085-X
Mary's life has been turned upside down and it is hard to imagine how it could get worse. So bad is it that she fervently wishes for "Jesus to come and take me in his lovin' arms" just as he just took her father, mother and little sister who died of the plague. This is London in the late 1700's and it is a cruel and dangerous world. Out on the street without so much a piece of food or decent clothes on her back, Mary discovers that she is a survivor, no matter how much she prays to move onto the next world. The world she is living in now is not ready to let her go quite yet.
In fact her world is determined for her to get by and that is just what she does. For some years she is part of a gang of orphaned and abandoned children who beg and steal to get enough food to fill their scrawny bellies. The children form a family of sorts, relying on one another for comfort and security. Mary is as happy as can be expected under the circumstances, doing the reading for the group, and doing her share of the work. Then the leader of the group is murdered, a boy who has become Mary's special friend. Over the dead body of her dear friend and comrade, Mary decides there and then that life on the streets of London is no longer a life for her. She leaves the great city which has been so cruel to her dressed in her old friend's clothes, seeking a new home for herself.
What Mary ends up doing is becoming a crew member on the HMS Dolphin. Now she has to live, learn, and work with a ship full of boys and men. The hard part is that she is passing herself off as a boy, as "Jacky." For as long as possible she is determined to keep her real identity a secret. This is very hard to do on a daily basis and gets only more so as her feminine-ness asserts itself more and more as she grows towards young womanhood.
The HMS Dolphin is seeking pirates and it finds them too. Jacky is flung into violence, danger, and has extraordinary adventures, all of which she manages to survive by sheer luck and through her wits. To complicate matters, Jacky unwittingly falls in love with one of her fellow ship's boys.
Funny, poignant and written in Mary's own 'voice' with great effect, this is a book which is sure to delight all lovers of adventure tales. With numerous twists in the plot which leave the reader reeling, the author plunges us into a world where life is cheap and death taken for granted. We watch Mary change as the HMS Dolphin crosses the ocean; we can almost see her grow up. No matter how much she tries, she cannot deny her sex and it sneaks up on her in the most unexpected ways. We can laugh at her predicaments and sympathise with her fears. Mary is a truly delightful character who is full of surprises and who grows on one as this remarkable story unfolds.
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