________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.


The Ship of Lost Souls.

Rachelle Delaney.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2009.
233 pp., pbk., $14.99.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Todd Kyle.


Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.




The Ship of Lost Souls was, after all, a haven for children in a world of grown-up pirates and King's Men. Children like Liam and Ronagh, whose father, one of the King's Captains, had left them at a nasty boarding school where they went to bed hungry each night. Children like Gil and Lucas, who had worked on one of the King's schooners and were treated no better than Port Aberhard's stray dogs. Jem was one of them, even if he didn't know it yet. His eyes were an open book, with loneliness scrawled over every page. He didn't have to admit it aloud. His parents had abandoned him, and there wasn't a Lost Soul on board who didn't understand that feeling.

     Eleven-year-old Jem is sent by his absentee parents to join his Uncle Finn in the New World to search for a long-lost treasure. Kidnapped by pirates, Jem is rescued by the Lost Souls, a ship of children who plunder for their own survival and freedom by capitalizing on a ghost myth to scare real pirates. Jem makes friends with Scarlet, the Lost Souls' captain, and joins the crew to search for the mysterious treasure. Facing competition from real pirates, a mutiny on board, and a host of natural dangers, the crew eventually reunite with Uncle Finn and discover that the true treasure is something that cannot be sold for money.

     First-time novelist Delaney reaches into some of the most classic themes and adventures to create a perfect and exciting parable for modern times. The New World islands depicted are at once familiar and otherworldly, her take on piracy as a foil for plundering colonial powers is brilliant, and her placing of children in charge of their own destiny amid a lawless society is highly appealing to pre-teens. The characterization of both Jem and Scarlet is vivid, with the book alternating from the vantage point of each. Especially vivid - and very modern - is Scarlet's growth as a leader who learns to listen to her crew; the book could almost be required reading for management school!

     The search for treasure always makes for a gripping story, but here it is more so: no one knows what the treasure consists of, only that it was discovered by one of the King's Men before he died, one of the few New Worlders not immune to the imported disease that killed all the Islanders.

     Sublimely foreshadowed by the Lost Soul's wistful discussions of what it could possibly be, the eventual discovery of the treasure is both expected and surprising: it is both a peaceful jungle clearing and a group of bird's nests that overlooks the clearing, lined with the rubies that the birds have unearthed. That Scarlet now recalls the place from her childhood with her Islander mother, that the birds' name "ara" means Scarlet, and that the Lost Souls decide to remain in the place in order to protect it from environmental destruction, are all icing on the cake of a book that combines classic themes and appealing adventure in the most seamless way possible.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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