Russell’s first novel takes place in 1851, a turbulent and significant year in the diverse port town of New Bedford, Mass. Fourteen-year-old Lucky is a Cape Verdean raised on his father’s whaling ship, Nightbird, until his father dies and his estranged “lowdown, barnacle-scrapin’ scalawag” of an older brother, Fernando Fortuna, “shanghais” him. Fernando forces Lucky to work at the dangerous textile mill to settle their father’s debt with him, leaving Lucky crestfallen, his dream of being the best rigger on the eastern seaboard suffocated a little more each day. When Lucky meets Daniel, a fugitive slave, and Emmeline Rowland, a Quaker captain’s daughter who offers him a place on her uncle’s ship, Lucky is pulled unwillingly into the abolitionist movement and forced to look beyond himself. Without slowing the story’s pace, Russell gives readers plenty to think about regarding the turbulent racial dynamics of the period—Lucky, who is dark-skinned yet free, initially sees little connection between his life and the plight of slaves. Strong-willed and good-hearted, Lucky is an especially vibrant hero in this multifaceted and suspenseful historical adventure. Ages 10�14. (Sept.)
ALAN Review - Joy Frerichs
In 1851 New Bedford, Massachusetts, whaling ships came into port. A 14-year-old boy from Cape Verde, Lucky Valera, was preparing for his first real job as a sailor when he was shanghaied by Fernando Vergas, his half-brother. Fernando plans to keep Lucky working for him until Lucky comes of age, sending Lucky to work in one of the mills where the labor is dangerous and backbreaking. Lucky meets a Quaker girl who is an abolitionist and a fugitive slave. He thinks that her problems and concerns are not his, as he attempts his own escape, but in a daring finale, he realizes that slavery is his problem, too. He goes back to sea to help fugitive slaves escape. The ills of slavery, child labor, conditions in mills, and the whaling industry make this book ideal to launch discussions of social issues. Reviewer: Joy Frerichs
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
It is 1851 and Lucky is about to celebrate his fourteenth birthday. He is happy that he will be sailing on the Nightbird as a full crew member and not a cabin boy. Life at sea was all he had ever known. He is kidnapped by Fortuna, a brother he never knew he had, and is told he will work for him until he turns eighteen. While working at a textile mill in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Lucky meets Daniel, an escaped slave, and Emmeline, a child abolitionist. At first Lucky is only interested in gaining his own freedom and returning to the Nightbird. He does not believe the stories about slave catchers. However, when he, Daniel, and Fortuna are caught by a slave catcher, Lucky's knowledge of ships helps save them. Russell has created an exciting story set during the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. A great deal of history is seamlessly interwoven into Lucky's story. Readers will learn about the conditions in the textile mills, the abolitionist movement, and protection papers. Literary touches, such as a protective seagull, add interest. The reference to Frederick Douglass states that he was "formerly enslaved in Virginia" (page 39 of the proof copy) however all of my sources state that he was a slave in Maryland. That is too bad because, overall, these are interesting and well-developed characters in an intriguing time period and setting which make this fast-paced tale a worthwhile read. Reviewed in proof copy. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 5�8—Lucky Valera, an experienced sailor at 14, is heading to rejoin his ship, the Nightbird, in mid-19th-century New Bedford, MA, when he is kidnapped by his previously unknown and much older brother. Fernando makes himself Lucky's guardian, requires him to work in the local textile mill, and confiscates his possessions and wages. Lucky finds friends in Daniel, a young escaped slave who lives in constant fear of being caught, and Emmeline, a Quaker who defies her stepmother to help both boys. The three friends have many adventures and near escapes in their quest to get Daniel to freedom and Lucky back to sea. The author includes a lot of information about the time and place but the story lacks excitement and suspense. The characters are one-dimensional and underdeveloped. Lucky's maritime background surfaces in his regular use of the expression "hell's bells" and as he sings a sea chantey that goes "Ol' Jolly Salts have sorry faults/Concealed beneath their britches./They bring disease from overseas/Those scurvy sons-of-." Terms used for African Americans, such as "darkie" and "colored," may be historically accurate, but prospective purchasers should be aware that they are included. There are many better titles that deal with the whaling and textile industries in New England.—Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
Abolitionists square off against slave catchers in this well-crafted debut, complicating the schemes of a stranded young sailor.
Kidnapped off the streets of New Bedford by his harsh half-brother, held until his whaler had departed and then forced to work in a local cotton mill, Lucky Valera, a 14-year-old orphan of Cape Verdean descent, finds his efforts to escape stymied at every turn. His attachments to his coworker and new friend Daniel, a fugitive slave, and Emmeline, activist daughter of a Quaker abolitionist, involve him in plans to protect the large number of fugitives in town from approaching slave catchers. Along with a few references to "darkies" and "dark devils" that evoke the era's negative racial attitudes, Russell folds in enough historical detail to establish a sense of setting. Without burdening the tale with info dumps, she lays out a basic view of the conflict between the recently passed Fugitive Slave Act and the moral stance of those who opposed it. The author also provides ample tests of character for Lucky and Daniel alike as she speeds her tale to a climactic escape and happy resolution after Lucky's half-sib treacherously tries to collect a reward for both lads and is himself briefly seized.
Solid work, featuring a strong-minded protagonist bent on doing the best he can with what he's been given. (afterword, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 11-13)