Murder Afloatby 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 worlduntil 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 worlduntil 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 Dawnone 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 seaa 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?
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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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.
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!