HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy
Author: Louis A. Meyer
Cover Illustrator: Cliff Nielsen
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, republished in 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1439517239 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 1439517231 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0152050856 Paperback
ISBN-10: 015205085X Paperback
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 12 and up, but I would say at least 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Meyer, Louis A. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy (published in 2002 by Harcourt Children’s Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Ave. S., New York City, NY 10003). It is 1797 in London, England, and thirteen-year-old Mary Faber’s father, mother, and little sister Penny have all died of the pestilence when Mary was eight. She was put out of their house and for some four or five years has been part of a gang of street urchins led by Rooster Charlie. Then Charlie gets killed, so she leaves the gang, dresses like a boy, calls herself Jacky Faber, and hires on The HMS Dolphin as a ship’s boy, along with Davy, Benjy, Tink, Willy, and Jaimy (James Emerson Fletcher). Off they sail to the Caribbean Sea to chase pirates. Will “The Deception” be found out? What will happen to Jacky if it does? Or will she even survive the battles? There are good, bad, and ugly in this book. The good is that the story is told in a very interesting and highly readable fashion with sympathetic characters. The bad is that the dialogue is liberally peppered with cursing (the “d” and “h” words), profanity (taking the Lord’s name in vain), and a lot of near-vulgar slang. Also, numerous references to drinking wine, brandy, ale, and rum are found. And some scenes are a little violent.
But far worse is the ugly. Given the plot of a girl on a ship with men and boys, a large amount of sexual talk and situations occurs. Jacky makes herself a “fake cod” so that she shows evidence of “male equipment.” She watches while the boys play naked in the bowsprit netting and sees the “bit of hair under their arms and around their dangly bits,” but of course she must make excuses not to join in. But she has her first menstrual cycle while on board and first thinks she is dying from some kind of plague. While on shore at Palma, she seeks out a prostitute named Mrs. Roundtree who speaks English to learn “the way of a man with a maid, and babies and how they’re made and born.” Then when she is coming out of the house, the boys see her. She claims to have just been asking directions, but they all assume that the boy Jacky has become a man. Mention is made of brothels, “’orehouses,” buggery, sodomy, and pederasty. One of the sailors, Bill Sloat, attempts to rape Jacky, even while mistakenly thinking that it’s a boy. “You’ll be back every day for more. I know you will, and you’ll love yer uncle Bill more and more every day.” Of course, when he pulls her pants down, he discovers that she is a girl. “Not a little rooster, but a little hen….Got a little henhouse there, Jacky? A cuckoo’s nest? Such fun.” However, she shoves a knife into his gut, and he falls overboard.
So, the real question then is, are these novels entirely appropriate for twelve year olds? One reader reviewer noted, “As a preteen book, it’s wildly off course.” Some adults may like this kind of thing, but they need to read them first before giving one to a tweener or early teen. After Jacky begins to fall for Jaimy, she reveals her secret privately to him. Even though she says that she is able to “remain chaste—somewhat” because they “haven’t done that baby-making thing yet,” do parents really want impressionable youngsters to read about a teenage girl whose ability to control her own feelings and those of the men around her is blindly naïve and thus perhaps think that they might be safe doing stupid things around bad people? This is volume 1 of the “Bloody Jack Adventures.” The others are Curse of the Blue Tattoo, Under the Jolly Roger, In the Belly of the Bloodhound, Mississippi Jack, My Bonny Light Horseman, Rapture of the Deep, The Wake of the Lorelei Lee, The Mark of the Golden Dragon, Viva Jacquelina!, Boston Jacky, and Wild Rover No More. Based on my reading of the first book, I’m not sure that I can recommend them very highly.