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Go Saddle the Sea    by Joan Aiken order for
Go Saddle the Sea
by Joan Aiken
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (1977)

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Go Saddle the Sea is the first in Joan Aiken's adventure trilogy featuring Felix, the son of an Englishman and a Spanish lady, and his travels. From page one, Aiken pulls the reader in for an adventure they will not soon forget.

Felix is unhappy with his life at his grandfather's villa. After his mother died and his father was killed in the war, Felix was sent to live with his grandfather and widowed aunts, but his family never seems happy to have him and his harsh tutor makes Felix want to run away. When his friend Bernie the cook dies, Felix decides to do just that. Armed with an illegible letter from his father and a stubborn mule, Felix sets out for the coast, planning to sail to England and find the other half of his family. Along the way, Felix encounters many dangers that eventually have him running from the law and for his life. Luckily, he meets a new friend Sam, who helps him escape and finally get to England where Felix learns things about his family that he never knew.

One of the things that sets Go Saddle the Sea apart from many other books for middle school audiences is that the lessons Felix learns on his travels do not help him understand himself better but rather help him understand those around him. For instance, Felix leaves home at the beginning because he feels that his grandfather does not love him. By the end, Felix discovers some physical reason for this, but he also understands how his grandfather might be feeling. Basically, Felix discovers empathy, whereas most heroes of this type learn something like self-discipline or bravery. It is refreshing for a novel aimed at a preteen audience to have a different sort of message, while also being a really good book.

Aiken knows how to pull readers in and keep the story moving, which is very important with an adventure story for this age range. She is descriptive enough that the reader immediately gets the feeling for the period and can imagine all of the places Felix travels and all of the people he meets, but not so descriptive that she bogs down the story's momentum. In fact, the combination of her fast-moving plot and natural incorporation of descriptive elements would make Go Saddle the Sea and good choice to be read aloud to even younger children, as it would keep their attention while providing good life lessons.

Go Saddle the Sea is one of the best adventure stories that I have ever read for the younger teen audience. I am glad that Joan Aiken wrote two more novel about Felix, and I cannot wait to read them.

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