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by Bonnie Pryor & illustrated by Bert Dodson

Age Range: 10 - 12

Pub Date: June 30th, 2000
ISBN: 0-688-17134-6
Publisher: HarperCollins

Veteran middle-grade novelist Pryor (Thomas in Danger, 1999, etc.) offers another sturdy, appealing entry in her growing series of historical novels set in 18th- and 19th-century America. Luke: 1849—On the Golden Trail (not reviewed) brought the young protagonist from his Iowa home “back East” to Boston. This new, fast-paced tale transports Luke from his uncle Eli’s home in Boston and around the Horn on a swift Yankee Clipper Ship, en route to the California gold fields. Adult readers will probably find the plot a bit creaky: facile friendships between Luke and Toby (the son of Uncle Eli’s former slave housekeeper Miss Maisie) and the orphaned cabin “boy” (who’s really a girl in disguise), a conniving thief who conspires to hijack the ship, a mysterious letter (written in code) with directions to a secret California gold mine. However, the plot is leavened by the budding romance between Uncle Eli and the ship’s perky Irish cook (Colleen) and further spiced with horrendous ocean storms, icebergs, pirates, and a chillingly authentic shark attack on the wounded Uncle Eli. Pryor is adept at such time-honored pot-boiler techniques like ambiguous yet intriguing chapter headings, cliffhanger chapter endings, and the well-placed (though sometimes ham-handed) foreshadowing of future plot twists. The five page afterword “More About . . .” provides historical context and expands on the situations and events in the novel. This is certainly not <\b>The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990) but no matter: it will keep ’em engaged—and reading. (Fiction. 10-12)