Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage

by Cynthia Bass

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It was the biggest, most lavish man-made object on the face of the planet; it was the ship of dreams, and the highest achievement of the Industrial Age. It was the Titanic, and its maiden voyage would be a voyage of crisis and discovery for one young boy, Sumner Jordan. Sumner, the son of a leading suffragist and himself a would-be bohemian, is rewarded for his… See more details below


It was the biggest, most lavish man-made object on the face of the planet; it was the ship of dreams, and the highest achievement of the Industrial Age. It was the Titanic, and its maiden voyage would be a voyage of crisis and discovery for one young boy, Sumner Jordan. Sumner, the son of a leading suffragist and himself a would-be bohemian, is rewarded for his precocious erudition with a dream trip to England. During his return he falls in love, for the first time, with a beautiful young woman and with the grandeur of the Titanic. Through vividly colorful prose, we experience his harrowing escape, as well as the moral issues raised for him over the policy of "Women and children first." Sumner must additionally confront exactly who he is...and who he is to be.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
We've crossed these waters so often, knowing the story so well-the separations of husband from wife, the third-class passengers doomed from the start-that it hardly seems possible to find a new spin on the tale of the Titanic. But Bass (Sherman's March) achieves a measure of success by tying the story of the sinking ship to the end of an era-dramatized by the suffragist movement. In April of 1912, Sumner Jordan, a privileged 12-year-old Bostonian, finds himself safely aboard the Titanic, finally ready to set sail. Sumner's boredom lifts aboard ship when he discovers the presence of 21-year-old feminist Ivy Earnshaw (on whom he develops a crush). Two thirds of the book pass before the berg is struck and the reader, completely caught up in the tale, remembers that this ship has to sink. But that's when things really start to crackle. Biology is destiny here, expressed in the chivalric maritime call for "women and children first," and Sumner picks a rather inopportune moment to contemplate whether or not it's time to become a man. The lifeboat scenes are top-notch, as is the depicted aftermath of survivors' guilt. Back home, anti-suffragists exploit the disaster to ask if women are willing to sacrifice chivalry for the vote. Bass expertly conveys the peculiarly self-conscious isolation of a child possessed of an adult intelligence; as Sumner grapples with issues of heroism and justice in the face of trauma, she gracefully blends the coming-of-age tale of one boy with that of an entire society. (Apr.)
VOYA - Ann Welton
Sumner Jordan is the son of a prominent American suffragist and her dilletante expatriot husband. The year he is twelve, Sumner recites a pro-suffragette poem at The Greater and Metropolitan Boston Fine Arts and Poetry Fair. He loses the contest, as he knew he would, but is rewarded nonetheless when friends of his mother take up a subscription and purchase him a first class ticket home from a visit to his father in England. The ship on which he travels is the Titanic, and the maiden voyage of the title is significant, for it marks Sumner's voyage out of childhood and into love, guilt, despair, and eventually, knowledge and adulthood. The physical settings of the novel-Boston, London, the Titanic itself, the frozen nighttime Atlantic of the sinking-are less important than voice in this well-constructed novel. Sumner seems, from the outset, much older than his twelve years, perhaps because the story is told in retrospect. The whole effect is as if the reader were looking at a detailed sepia photograph of the early years of the twentieth century. Women's suffrage, explicitness in art, the social conditions of the poor, family expectations-all these are treated with such stately consideration that the picture emerges almost effortlessly. The characters, as seen through Sumner's eyes, are three-dimensional in both a physical and emotional sense. Sumner's despair, too, seems palpable. With the current rash of books on the Titanic disaster and their insistence that "women and children first" marked the swan song of chivalry and the Edwardian Age, Maiden Voyage could get lost. That would be a pity, as this lucidly written, highly individual work presents people for whom the tragedy marked the end of life as they knew it and the beginning of the modern age. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal - Library Journal
Sumner Jordan is almost 13 years old when he embarks on a trip to London. The highlight of the trip is his return voyage to America on the brand-new, highly touted ship the Titanic. This coming-of-age novel, which centers on Sumner's search for adulthood, is not very successful. Sumner's obsession with an older woman and his desire to be seen as a man might have been more believable had he been a couple of years older, and his detached, almost third-person observance of the event as "the perfect setting, for a rite of passage" seems far-fetched. It also seems far-fetched that a 12-year-old would lock himself in his stateroom when the ship begins evacuating to prove that he is a man. The vivid portrayal of the survivors on the lifeboats watching the ship go down with their loved ones still aboard is, however, riveting. Recommended for public libraries with fans of Bass (Sherman's March, Villard, 1994).-Kathy Ingels Helmond, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
YASumner Jordan, 13, is a first-class passenger on the ill-fated Titanic. He comes from a Bostonian family famous for its involvement in the causes of anti-slavery and women's suffrage. Sent to visit his expatriot bohemian father in London, Sumner has a coming-of-age experience upon meeting beautiful, mature Ivy Earnshaw and, once aboard the ship, debonair Pierce Andrews. There is a nice twist on all of the characterizations. Ivy is a femme fatale, but also a principled suffragist; Pierce, though a man of the world, is heroic; and Sumner himself, though prone to self-condemnation, behaves appropriately when the fatal accident occurs. The book reflects the glamour of the luxury liner and has all the suspense and harrowing detail expected in a first-person account of the shipwreck, plus an interesting tie-in with women's suffrage. With the exception of Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic! (Buccaneer, 1994), fiction on the subject is rare.Frances Reiher, Fairfax Public Library system, VA
June Vigor
Twelve-year-old Sumner Jordan, aspiring poet and son of a pioneering Beacon Hill suffragist, is struggling to find his place in the world of men. During an annual visit with his wealthy dilettante father in London, Sumner's eyes are opened to a new world of experience--he chats with James Joyce at a raucous poetry reading in his father's bohemian salon, is blindsided by a sexual awakening, and develops a powerful crush on a beautiful American feminist, Ivy Earnshaw. Free to explore London on his own for the first time, he roams the streets seeking glimpses of his beloved Ivy, all the while spinning fantasies of heroic virtue and sacrifice with himself in the starring role. Almost as exciting is the prospect of returning to the States aboard the glittering new ship "Titanic" until the ensuing disaster at sea dampens his romantic notions. The women's rights theme is a bit forced, but any awkwardness is overcome by the energy and wry humor crackling underneath the genteel period veneer of this charming coming-of-age adventure.
Kirkus Reviews
In a radical shift from the time and temperament of her debut, Sherman's March (1994), Bass here tackles the Titanic disaster from an unusual angle—one that alternates between being riveting and ridiculous, fresh and formulaic.

Thirteen-year-old Sumner Jordan, son of a leading Boston suffragist, took his eyes from the prize as a contestant in a prestigious poetry contest in order to champion the cause of women's emancipation. He lost, but was rewarded by Mother with a trip to London to visit his expatriate father—and a voyage home on the Titanic. During a wild literary evening his father sponsors, attended by Pound and Joyce among others, Sumner takes a keen interest in Dad's actress lover, especially after she flirts with him. He discovers his sexuality that night, but soon after finds another focus for his passion: the American suffragist Ivy Earnshaw, whom he views in thrillingly defiant action at a pro- suffrage rally. Sumner's excitement at travelling alone on the Titanic is boundless when he sees that Ivy is also aboard. With the help of the sympathetic (and breathtakingly dashing) Pierce Andrews, he succeeds in overcoming his shyness enough to ask Ivy to dance, but the momentous evening has barely ended when the iceberg happens along to spoil the fun. Unable to avoid being labeled a child as women and children are loaded into lifeboats, not even the fact that Ivy and Pierce are saved with him can keep Sumner's heroic image of himself from being dashed. He returns to Boston depressed at having survived, but eventually rethinks the matter when Ivy confesses to feeling the same way.

The tragic appeal of the Titanic remains undiminished, even with the recent passing of the last survivor with memories of the sinking, but using it—no matter how vividly—as mere backdrop for a tale of a sappy, genteel adolescent crush seems ill-advised.

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Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated
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