Title: The Pirate's Booty – Inventor in Training I Author: D.M. Darroch I Publisher: Sleepy Cat Press
This book was not rated by the American Library Association at the time of this review.
Plot Summary: A young inventor by the name of Angus Clark finds himself at the wrong end of a laboratory mishap when his latest invention (the insect incinerator) teleports him onto a ship of pirates within an alternate dimension. After a brief investigation of the circumstances, Angus discovers a talking macaw that is an other-dimensional version of a school associate by the name of Ivy. Ivy explains that the universe is made up of millions of dimensions that run parallel to our own and that each one is different but shares similarities with the others. Ivy has been displaced from her human body in her own dimension but has been able to survive by moving into the bodies of animals. She has been scouring the universe trying to find a dimensional form of Angus with the hope that he can help her return to her own body.
Angus is soon made to walk the plank by the ship's captain (Marge) who shares a remarkable resemblance to his own math teacher. Ivy moves into the body of a whale in order to save him. They land on an island where Ivy moves into the body of a crow. They meet Captain Hank and he explains how Marge incited a mutiny and took over his ship – the Fearsome Flea. Together these fast friends concoct a plan to get off the island, take back the Fearsome Flea and return Ivy and Angus to their respective dimensions.
In the meantime, the pirate dimension's Angus (known as BP in his own world) has been displaced and is now living in Angus's dimension. BP does not understand what has happened to him or that he is now living someone else's life. In spite of his confusion, he must learn to get along with Angus's parents, the family cat, Angus's teachers and his friends. BP then figures out how to get beyond an unfortunate mishap that leaves him suspended from school and grounded so that he can return to the Fearsome Flea.
Rating: This young adult book has earned a 10+ rating for mildly inappropriate humor. It also receives four stars for story development.
Review : As you probably remember, the whole point of this book review series has been to sort through the American Library Association's and specifically YALSA's lists of Best YA Literature of 2013 to help parents of young adults better understand story content. This entire exercise is meant to assist parents with guiding their children in making better reading choices because YALSA's recommendations may not meet the much higher educational standards that most parents have…or at least ought to have… for their children. This series generally serves as a warning that just because a book has been recommended by YALSA doesn't mean the book is appropriate for children between the ages of 12 and 18. This age range is not some arbitrary array that I concocted to drive home my cultural bias. As ridiculous as it sounds, "ages 12 to 18" in all its developmentally extreme glory is the grouping that the ALA associates with the YA category.
But see, part of the reason for committing to the review series in the first place was to also highlight those shining examples of YA literature that are not only appropriate for young developing minds but might actually act as incitement for improving them. Having found little substance to which we can build our mighty list of suggested reading within the YALSA "Best of" lists, we occasionally look outside the YALSA universe to find such a book and that brings us to today's review.
The Pirate's Booty – Inventor in Training is kind of a refreshing change of pace from what we have been experiencing thus far with YA literature. In a straightforward comparison of YA subject matter, we see a complete antithesis of writing principle within D M Darroch's world building.
On the one hand, we have standard YA works which strive to be readable at around a fifth grade level but offer mature themes to which kids under seventeen ought not be exposed if we are to protect their innocence and prevent the development of jaded and despondent perspectives. Conversely, The Pirate's Booty demands a slightly higher reading comprehension level and introduces scientifically challenging vocabulary so that the average seventh grader will need to keep a dictionary handy for quick reference – this is what good Young Adult books should demand of our children by the way. Even so, the writer manages to keep the subject matter appropriate for children over ten.
So you can tell already that I'm loving this book, but as we dig deeper into the character development and what each personality represents for young people? This is where the real distinction between typical YA fiction and Darroch's fiction lives.
Start with Angus. Angus is extremely bright and was born with an innate understanding of science that captivates his imagination and draws him away from what he is supposed to be doing at any given time. He has very little use for the methods of homogenization that schooling strives to achieve in the minds and hearts of young students. He cares about inventing and everything outside of that interest is a tedious obstacle to what he'd rather to be doing.
In the real world, Angus would long ago have been categorized as ADHD with a hint of autistic spectrum thrown in to keep things interesting. In D.M. Darroch's world, Angus's ingenuity is celebrated by his parents and, if not exactly understood by his teachers, his gifts are at least tolerated by them. Angus is granted extraordinary latitude for developing his talents.
Then there's BP. The character BP is merely Angus in a different universe. What readers come to understand is there are millions of alternate Anguses scattered across infinity. Angus Clark and BP are but two variations on a theme. BP is uneducated, incorrigible, a bully, a runaway and a pirate. In short, BP is the anti-Angus. Now, it's hard for the casual observer to know what an author intends to achieve when he or she is developing a storyline versus what might be considered a happy coincidence, but BP is a pretty great plot device for illustrating misdirected potential because he literally could be a genius as evidenced by Angus's success, but BP took a less demanding and ultimately less efficacious path instead.
It's actually a shame that Darroch couldn't tease out this contrast between choices that Angus and BP have made and how this has altered the trajectory of their lives because it's a real opportunity to underscore an important life lesson. To draw this out too much would, however, change the reader's comprehension requirements because now we're getting into a philosophical debate between free will and determinism. It would also change the book's tone into something more serious than the writer intends. Nevertheless, BP is irrefutably transformed through his interaction with Angus's parents who demand more from him than he demands for himself and who teach him to raise his own expectations for his own life.
That brings us to Mr. and Mrs. Clark. Angus's parents are my favorite part of this book because they are the complete reverse of that contemporary stereotype of parenting readers too often encounter in American pop culture. The Clarks utterly lack the dysfunctional skill set that we see is a requirement in modern YA literature. The first thing the reader will notice is that Angus's parents aren't bumbling, fumbling idiots and that will hit like a breath of fresh air for any adult who has grown weary of the literary eye roll that lives in the heart of most über cool YA.
But wait. It gets better. Not only aren't Mr. and Mrs. Clark complete idiots, Angus's parents also aren't self-absorbed egoists; they don't view Angus as an obstacle or inconvenience; they present themselves to Angus and to BP as parental authorities and when Angus or BP fail to live up to expectations, Angus's parents provide punishments that a young reader might reflexively reject as unfair. That dismissal ends when the reader begins to see how those consequences improve the self-worth of BP specifically.
The book has earned four stars as I noted above. Remember that the star system doesn't in and of itself act as a recommendation but rather indicates the level to which the writer achieves his or her own goals. In this case, a star was lost because (from my perspective) the writer did not settle down and find her storytelling stride until about the third chapter. I would characterize the mild deficit as a writer having too much to say and chomping at the bit to get it all down on paper. Once the reader gets past the third chapter, he or she will notice the writer relaxing and having fun with the story. The science in this book is fantastic and any science-loving child will relish what the author has to say on the subject of theoretical physics and chemistry. He or she will also enjoy the delineation of Angus's handy dandy screwdriver which has an almost Thor to hammer quality about it and always seems to be there for Angus when he needs it most. Very amusing.
I can't believe that I get to say this, but I do recommend The Pirate's Booty – Inventor in Training for readers between the ages of 10 to 15. (So Merry Christmas to me!) As always, I do so with a caveat that there is some mildly inappropriate humor that takes the form of potty humor. You will want to keep this in mind if your child is sensitive or is younger than the recommended ten years of age.