Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dale Peck

Drift House: The First Voyage
by Dale Peck
Recommended Age: 12+

Though he had written several novels for adults, it was the events of September 11, 2001, that inspired Dale Peck to write this, his first young-readers’ novel. And it is those events that set this adventure in motion. Enough time has passed, I think, that many of us can appreciate this choice. Just think: 9/11 is becoming part of our national folklore — perhaps even worldwide. Stories are beginning to grow out of the cracks it left in our lives. And for the three children in this story, who live close to Ground Zero, 9/11 does more than set history on a new course. It challenges them to consider whether history should continue at all.

The wonderful thing about this story is that this question is one that Susan, Charles, and Murray can do something about. For they have been sent to visit not just an eccentric uncle in his eccentric, Canadian bayshore mansion. In fact, they have been sent to visit a ship disguised as a house; a ship made to sail on the Sea of Time. Soon they are adrift, with no one to help them but a daffy uncle named Farley and a talking parrot named President Wilson.

Then they meet the mermaids... and the pirates... and the flying carpet... and all kinds of other amazing creatures. Not all of them are friendly. Some of them, in fact, want Susan to stop up the drain that keeps history flowing through the Sea of Time, to end the past and the future, and leave only an unchanging eternal present. If she doesn’t do this, her brothers are doomed. And if she does it, she is doomed. What will Susan choose?

Whatever she chooses, she and her family will never be the same. For one thing, their adventures are not over yet. You’ll probably agree this is a good thing, because after a taste of this story’s danger, intrigue, humor, and mystery, you’ll probably find that one taste isn’t enough. Besides, the book daringly fits the staggering evil of 9/11 into the question of whether the world is still worth saving. And it also includes a humorous but instructive glossary of “affected” words, including chiaroscuro and vicissitudes.

Once you make this journey with Susan and her brothers, you may also want to read its sequel, titled The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage.

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