Murder Afloat

Murder Afloat

4.5 2
by Jane Leslie Conly

Benjamin Franklin Orville is a boy who wants for nothing. He has his own pony, and he's caught the eye of the charming girl next door. He doesn't have a care in the world—until the day his mother sends him to market to get a chicken for dinner. Suddenly Benjy is caught up in a scuffle, kidnapped with a group of immigrants, and forced to work aboard the Ella


Benjamin Franklin Orville is a boy who wants for nothing. He has his own pony, and he's caught the eye of the charming girl next door. He doesn't have a care in the world—until the day his mother sends him to market to get a chicken for dinner. Suddenly Benjy is caught up in a scuffle, kidnapped with a group of immigrants, and forced to work aboard the Ella Dawn—one of the most ill-reputed oystering vessels in Baltimore. He tries to plead his case, but his captors are unimpressed by Benjamin's way with language. Soon the boy knows only hard work and hunger, a little bit of German, and a whole lot about injustice. It's more of an education than he ever got at home. And along with a growling stomach and aching muscles, he also experiences the joys of the sea—a gentle rhythm that rocks him to sleep at night and freedom he never felt between the fancy walls of his home. Will Benjamin ever see home again? And if he does, will he know what to do there?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Benjamin Orville lives the kind of life any boy in 1868 Baltimore could dream of: he has his own pony, is treated well by his parents and siblings, and is trusted to do things on his own. But when Benjy is inadvertently kidnapped by a group of sailors connected to an oystering boat who are looking for cheap labor, his life changes dramatically. Benjy must learn quickly how to survive in the dangerous world of the oyster boats and befriends some of the immigrant men who have also been kidnapped. Benjy's adventures reshape his life and his goals, and when he finally is able to escape his captors, he must decide what he now wants from his life: continued adventure or a return to the safety of the family circle. Conly's writing is excellent and this book provides a solid adventure with a setting that will be new to many readers. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—While on an errand for his mother, 14-year-old Benjamin is kidnapped along with a group of immigrants from the streets of Baltimore in 1868. When he wakes, he finds he is aboard an oyster ship, Ella Dawn, where he is expected to perform hard labor with little food. He comes from a fairly wealthy family, and has had an easy life. The captain is cruel, and Ben sees many men killed or thrown overboard. While he misses his family, he soon grows accustomed to the life and finds himself contemplating a future on the high seas. In order for that to happen, he has to find a way to make it off the ship alive. Conly does a decent job of pacing the novel with a mixture of danger and adventure. The story follows Ben in his effort to survive as his character grows and changes over the course of the novel. While a couple of slow spots exist, Murder Afloat has enough plot twists to keep readers involved.—Rebecca Webster, Warren County Middle School, Front Royal, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Fourteen-year-old Ben, a well-to-do boy from Baltimore, is inadvertently shanghaied onto an oyster-dredging boat operating on the Chesapeake Bay in 1868. Conditions for him and the other captives, a motley group of German immigrants, are brutal. The captain, cruel and often drunk, thinks nothing of enforcing his will by murder, and victims abound. Enduring the harsh conditions, Ben gradually learns the trade and befriends the other sailors (none of whom, alas, are fully developed characters). Given an opportunity, many escape but have only slight luck finding help. Propelled from one adventure into another, Ben leaves behind his boyish innocence and develops a worldly-wise attitude that leads, ultimately, to a life-changing decision some readers may find wrenching. Time and place are believably depicted, and Ben's first-person narration is engaging and emotionally true, making for a convincing coming-of-age tale with an unusual setting. Conly vividly depicts a world of oyster piracy and murderous mayhem, with many boats' crews comprised mostly of kidnapped immigrants; given the intriguing setting, an historical note would have been a welcome addition. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.74(w) x 11.58(h) x 0.70(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Jane Leslie Conly is the author of several books, including Rasco and the Rats of NIMH, an ALA Booklist Children's Editors Choice, the critically acclaimed Trout Summer (an ALA Notable Children's Book and Best Book for Young Adults), and the Newbery Honor Book Crazy Lady! She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Murder Afloat 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
wordforteens More than 1 year ago
I don't often read middle grade books. I'm one of those people who read whatever catches my eye; most of that happens to fall into the YA category. Sometimes I'll read adult, sometimes I'll read middle grade, and most will have some crossover appeal. I spotted Murder Afloat at BEA last year and - hello? Book with possible pirate themes? Of course I'm in. I love pirates. And even though the book was kind of pirate-ish (there are, sadly, no actual pirates) I wasn't as thrilled as I thought I'd be. Middle grade books walk a very fine line, much finer than YA or childrens books do. They have to be able to fully develop a world and characters while keeping the book short enough and simply written enough to hold the average pre-teen's interest. And as interesting as I found the basic plot to be, it failed in that respect. The characters I was interested in most were the characters that we were shown the least of. I know it was a middle grade book, and thus designed to be short, but another 50 to 100 pages or so wouldn't have killed it. (I've seen bigger YA books.) Honestly, Benjy was interesting, but I wanted to hit him sometimes. The villains were typical villains. Plot wise, I liked it - any character that starts to form some attachment to the sea I automatically adore. I guess I love sailors and pirates and what have you. - but I thought the characters could have been much better, even if it is 'just a middle grade novel.' (I hate dissing down the MG novels, because I've read some amazing ones, but seeing as I focus so much on YA on this blog - 'cause it's, you know, a YA blog - I feel the need to specify.) As for the world - again, I understand it's a shorter story designed to reel the reader in. But if I hadn't double checked, I would have been oblivious to what era we were in. The only hints I got were mentions of the war and of bicycles - and, of course, the oysters themselves. But I barely knew when some of those things were going on, what in Rowling makes you think that somebody a good ten years younger than me is going to know what time it is? The world could have been much more detailed, or at least given a specific time period so I knew where I was.
GladToBeAlive More than 1 year ago
Starting off in a middle class home in the 19th Century, this book becomes a fast paced cliff hanger, after teenage Benjamin is kidnapped by oyster fisherman, and forced to undergo the rigors of life at sea in the winter. Will he survive? Will he escape? Will his captors be brought to justice? I won't spoil the story!