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Pirate's Passage    by William Gilkerson order for
Pirate's Passage
by William Gilkerson
Order:  USA  Can
Trumpeter, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Pirate's Passage begins in 1952 in Grey Rocks, Nova Scotia, where - reminiscent of Treasure Island (which this modern story parallels in intriguing ways) - twelve-year old Jim and his widowed mother struggle to keep the old Admiral Anson Inn going - under constant fire from the town's powerful Moehner family. Jim is trying to get started on an essay on pirates for a school project, when he spies a small yacht in the harbor, 'running for its life before the storm.' That sailboat bears a mysterious old man who will change young Jim's life forever.

Captain Charles Johnson docks his Merry Adventure at the inn's wharf and ends up staying over the winter. He pays Jim to run his errands and begins to make a difference in their lives, fending off each of the Moehners' attacks with Macchiavellian subtlety. The old man advises the boy on how to avoid the dog the Moehners set on him, and he tells Jim and his best friend Jenny tales of piracy and pirates through history - from cavemen, the Minoans and Vikings to the Elizabethan era and Caribbean buccaneers. This skilled storyteller brings history to life, putting boy and girl in the mind of a pirate of each era. He shows them that pirates weren't all rogues and scoundrels, and that good and bad depend a lot on context.

And Captain Johnson enlists young Jim in the Brotherhood, the duo making a daring secret night foray to recover a cannon stolen from the Inn by the Moehners. He helps put together a Christmas Concert to bring new business to the inn, and performs at it with their musical waitress Meagan 'Meg' O'Leary. The old sailor, Jim and Jenny explore the inn's deep cellars, discovering antique pewter tossed away as trash. There's trouble after a drinking episode gets out of hand, but the skies eventually clear, allowing Jim to set sail for Boston with the Captain on the Merry Adventure. He hopes to save the family business from the Moehners' latest attempt to take over the inn. On the return voyage, they face modern pirates.

The author himself painted the remarkable cover art and also many wonderful sketches interspersed through the text, that bring the story vividly to the mind's eye. Pirate's Passage, a 2006 Governor General's Award for Literature winner, is a brilliant tale of a fatherless boy, who learns about both history and life from an older mentor. But is the mysterious Captain an ageless avatar as Jenny believes or simply a historian who sails the seas for a hobby and adventure? Read this thrilling tale and decide for yourself.

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