HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Secret Journey
Author: Peg Kehret
Cover Illustrator: C. Michael Dudash
Publisher: Aladdin, republished in 2008
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Kehret, Peg. The Secret Journey (published in 1999 by Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). It is June, 1834, and almost-twelve-year-old Emma Bolton lives in England with her father and mother, but Mrs. Bolton is gravely ill, and Dr. Crissy has said that she cannot survive unless she is moved to a warmer climate. Emma wants to go with her parents, but Papa says no. If she can’t go, Emma would prefer to stay with her mother’s younger brother, Uncle Edward who is a policeman in London, but Papa has arranged for her to live with her mother’s older sister, Aunt Martha, and her cousin Odolf. However, Odolf is a bully who always teases and taunts her, so she hatches a plan to run away from Aunt Martha’s dressed as a boy, stow away on her parents’ ship, and go to France with them after all.
Unfortunately, things go terribly awry. When she gets to the docks at Liverpool early in the morning before daybreak and asks a sailor where a ship called the Wayfarer is, he decides that a boy shouldn’t be on the docks at that time and points her to the Black Lightning, the most notorious slave ship on the high seas. Once she is discovered and learns of her mistake, she becomes “William” and works as ship’s boy for the cruel Captain Isaac Bacon. Then the ship is wrecked during a storm, and Emma is marooned all alone in the raging seas off the coast of Africa near Liberia. After barely making it to shore, she has to deal with chatty parrots, creeping beetles, angry water buffalo, mischievous chimpanzees, hunger, thirst, and jungle fever, all by herself. Will she ever make it back to England? Will she even survive her ordeal?
We had previously read a couple other books by Peg Kehret, Earthquake Terror and Spy Cat, both of which are well written and very interesting, having little or nothing objectionable. So, when I saw this book at a used book story, I picked it up. It is an extremely exciting tale. Although The Secret Journey is fiction, the author did a lot of research on clipper ships, the rain forests of western Africa, chimpanzees, and life in Victorian England in order to make the story as accurate and authentic as possible. Some might question Emma’s disobedience in running away, but she certainly learns some important lessons from her mistake, and she also exemplifies some positive characteristics, such as pity on the boy who shows her where the docks are and a refusal to lie to her Aunt Martha at the end. Other books by Kehret that have been recommended include I’m Not Who You Think I Am; Small Steps; and Abduction.