Seventeen-year-old Mary Reade has always longed for the sea; surviving poverty by living as a boy, she sails under the command of a cruel and tyrannical captain.
When their ship is boarded by pirates, Mary joins the pirate crew as Mark Reade, seizing a way to head toward Nassau, where her childhood best friend and crush resides. She immediately becomes smitten with Calico Jack Rackham’s partner, Anne Bonny, who is everything Mary isn’t: fiery, impetuous, and feminine. It becomes clear Anne’s also smitten, but Mary is terrified of the potentially deadly consequences of coming out. When she does reveal her secret, she discovers Anne will do whatever’s necessary to survive—including outing Mary and forcing her to make some difficult choices. Debut author McNamara doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of a misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic society. The third-person narration always uses feminine pronouns for the protagonist, although Mary expresses discomfort with claiming a binary gender identity. At times, Anne’s characterization leans toward the cheating bisexual, and Mary’s self-doubt and self-loathing may be difficult, rather than enlightening, for trans and nonbinary readers. Readers well-versed in the lives of the famous pirate duo may feel hornswoggled that so much of their known story has been underwhelmingly altered for this telling, and pirate fans will feel disappointed that there is relatively little swashbuckling.
Full of potential but unfortunately never quite finds its sea legs. (Historical fiction. 14-17)