________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009


Minerva's Voyage.

Lynne Kositsky.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2010.
215 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55488-439-1.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Beth Wilcox.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



Like others, we were busy with the everyday chores of staying alive. We had helped build huts, thatching roofs with wild palm leaves from those strange trees around the shoreline. They looked like feather dusters. The trees of the woods in the forest, more familiar to all, had fashioned the walls of our cabins. My hands were calloused and sore, and my head ached from the continual cuffings Scratcher gave it. But at least I was alive, something I would never have believed a fortnight since. Of course, I had to live with that tyrant Scratcher. I would rather have stayed with Fence, even in a hut the size of a coal hole. Fence, in his turn, lived with Admiral George Winters, while waiting on Boors and swatting flies for him. There were plenty of real ones to swat now we’d come ashore, along with other fliers, creepers, and crawlers. The bugs were bad. The thought of them made me itch. And indeed, I already had several large bites on my arms and legs that looked like the smallpox. Boors must be in heaven, with so many real insects to grouse about. Or hell.


Lynne Kositsky’s newest novel, Minerva’s Voyage, is an exhilarating adventure story replete with shipwrecks and treasure hunts. The adventure starts in England in 1609, when the newly homeless Noah Vaile, an orphan, petty thief and truant, is snatched off the streets and employed by the devious William Thatcher, whose bad hygiene and crude behaviour has earned him the nickname Scratcher. Scratcher renames his new employee Robin Starveling and drags him onto a ship of colonialists bound for Virginia. Robin soon discovers the real reason why his employer is onboard this ship: Scratcher is on a treasure hunt, and he has manipulated the witless colonial official Sir Boors to order a change in the ship’s course that will take Scratcher closer to his true destination, the Isle of Devils. The exact location of the treasure is hidden in a series of coded illustrated verses that Scratcher has not yet broken. Robin and his young friend, the honest cabin boy Peter Fence, secretly decide to solve the codes before Scratcher. Unfortunately, the verses are thrown overboard during a terrible tempest, and the ship is wrecked upon the Isle of Devils. Luckily, while being stranded on the island, Robin discovers the trunk holding the verses has washed ashore. Fence and Robin are able to solve the puzzles, but their treasure hunt turns dangerous as Robin and Fence are pursued by Scratcher and his murderous fellow conspirator, Proule. Robin and Fence manage to escape Scratcher and Proule, only to discover that the treasure map actually leads to the hiding spot of a shipwrecked man who claims to be the rightful king of England. The novel ends as Robin, Fence, the claimed King, and a friendly sailor set off in a small boat to start a new life together.

     Overall, the book is well written. Robin’s first person narration often uses language that is old-fashioned and out-dated, which has the effect of making his character seem believable and authentic. At the same time, the diction in the book stops short of being cumbersome; it does not impede the narrative flow or the comprehension of the modern reader.

      Robin’s story feels real, and the book’s “Afterward“ provides a much-appreciated explanation that situates the fiction in the actual historical account. The author reveals the story is a fictional reimagining of a shipwreck that was originally narrated in William Strachey’s sensationalized account of his experiences. Providing a link for further reading, Kositsky notes that Strachey’s story may have also inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

      The book’s greatest strength comes from the delightful character of Robin Starveling, someone whom the reader quickly befriends as he humorously battles against his own wickedness and the abuse of his disgusting employer. It is easy to team up with Robin and Fence as the line of good and evil clearly divides the boys from the murderers Scratcher and Proule whose lust for treasure endangered the entire ship. Boys and girls alike will be quickly drawn into the adventure as they puzzle out the clues to the treasure along with Fence and Starveling.

Highly Recommended.

Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

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