A 14-year-old who spends every summer in the quaint fishing village of Lobster Cove finds himself swept up into unexpected adventure in Toon’s imaginative middle-grade debut.
One day, Tyler Byrne encounters a strange-looking man in front of his house. He’s instantly convinced he’s a pirate, whom he privately dubs “BillyBones.” Soon after, he and his friends, Sandy, Bess, and Gatto—who collectively call each other “The Cyrkle”—visit the new nautical museum/tourist souvenir shop, The Rusty Anchor, which BillyBones (whose real name is Smythe) recently bought. In an attempt to prove that he’s right about Smythe, Tyler agrees to work for him and eventually finds a book titled Manifest and Captain’s Log. He discovers it to be a pirate history, which, he believes, is about his new boss. He soon realizes that if he scratches out passages in the book and fills them with his own words, he can magically alter the past; for example, when he prevents BillyBones from getting a leg injury in the book, Smythe, who has a bad leg, seems suddenly cured. This sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads to a battle against undead pirates, cleverly called “Mooncussers” and “Bygones.” This novel has everything a young fantasy-adventure fan might love—pirates, ghosts, magic, and swashbuckling derring-do. At the same time, however, it often suffers from overly leisurely pacing and some emotional distance; for example, at one point, the young first-person narrator and his mom suffer what should be a devastating loss, but it barely seems to register on them. Overall, this is a fun read, but when it comes to the human aspect underneath the fantastical goings-on, it has difficulty ringing true.
An enjoyable modern-day pirate adventure, but a greater focus on emotional substance might have made it a stronger, worthier narrative.