||November 14, 2006
Patricia Kelley, an orphaned British teen, stows away on a ship bound for Barbados during the Seven Years War, in a brash attempt to claim her father's estate.
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Star-Crossed is the first book in a trilogy of historical adventure novels featuring a teenaged young woman who chooses to dress like a man in order to survive.
I came aboard with the prostitutes, the night before the ship set sail...
Reminiscent of Celia Rees, first-timer Collison introduces orphaned Patricia
Kelley, 17, who sneaks
aboard a British merchantman headed for the West Indies, hoping to claim her
father's estate. When she
discovers that she has few rights aboard ship or on land, she marries the
ship's physician, an "old" man of
34, as a matter of survival and despite her attraction to a low-ranking
bosun's mate. On and off duty as a
physician's assistant, Patricia witnesses warfare, "modern" medicine,
birthing and early contraception and
the women at sea who will later be forgotten by history. After her husband
succumbs to yellow fever and
she finds herself penniless, the young woman dresses like a man and enlists
as a surgeon's second mate
on a frigate. Patricia's new life could be a path to greater independence and
reuniting with her true love.
A few forced explanations (e.g., "Pleaded their bellies? You mean to say they
were pregnant?") can be
overlooked in what is an otherwise well-researched, riveting adventure that
brings to light an overlooked
part of women's history. (map, author's note, glossary, sources) (Historical
School Library Journal
Patricia Kelley is the bold heroine of this 18th-century seafaring
saga. Left with debts after her father's death, the teen leaves her English
boarding school to claim her Barbados plantation. She stows away on a
merchant ship, but is soon discovered and threatened with expulsion at the
nearest port. The ship's surgeon intervenes and she becomes skilled as a
nurse, but finds joy only in her nightly visits on deck when she wears
sailor's clothes and learns to climb the ropes. She longs to be with Brian
Dalton, the bosun's mate, but he is beneath her socially. In Barbados,
Patricia finds that she has no home, and she agrees to the surgeon's marriage
proposal. Part two depicts their growing relationship and the work they do to
combat yellow fever. Part three finds Patricia a penniless widow and
shipwreck victim. Disguised as a man, she signs on as an assistant surgeon on
a frigate bound for battle in Havana and is reunited with Brian. Though much
of the novel is plot driven, Collison does an excellent job of allowing her
protagonist to develop. At first she is fairly unlikable, which is true to
her character, but ultimately she matures and becomes free of the shackles of
convention. Historical details are smoothly woven into the story, and a
historical note and bibliography are appended. Readers who enjoyed Avi's The
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (HarperCollins, 1992) will find a more
substantial, mature story here to captivate them again.-Cheri Dobbs, Detroit
Country Day Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI
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