HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Journey to Matecumbe
Author: Robert Lewis Taylor
Illustrator: Joseph Papin
Publisher: Pocket Books, republished 1976
ISBN-13: 978-9997409317 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 9997409310 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0671806095 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0671806092 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: Ages 16 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Taylor, Robert Lewis. A Journey to Matecumbe (published in 1961 by McGraw-Hill Book Company, 330 W. 442nd St., New York City, NY 10036; republished in 1962 by Avon Books, a division of The Hearst Corporation, 959 Eighth Ave., New York City, NY 10019). It is 1869, and a fourteen-year-old orphaned boy named David Burnie, usually called Davey, lives on Grassy Plantation near Hanksville, KY, with his Aunts Effie and Lou and Uncle Jim, who had been in the Mexican War and then a captain in the Civil War. Uncle Jim joined the Ku Klux Klan when it was supposed to be just a “social club,” but after the members begin assaulting Negroes, he turns against it. He and Davey stop a K.K.K. raid on a neighbor, killing a couple of Klansmen, so they have to flee. Jim has a map showing the location of a treasure on Matecumbe in the Florida Keys that he obtained during the Mexican War, and along with their former slave Zeb, the two head down the Mississippi River towards Florida.
Followed by a couple of Klan members, Jim and Davey pick up a medicine show “doctor,” Ewing T. Snodgrass, and his daughter Millicent (Millie). Next, they visit Belle Mead, the Mississippi plantation of Jim’s Civil War buddy Paxton Farrow, only to find out that it is being run by his twin brother Rex Farrow who is impersonating Paxton and is a Klan sympathizer. When they leave, they are joined by Lauriette Paxton who wants to escape her brother’s iron rule. Then they must face hostile Seminoles in the Everglades. Do they ever make it to Matecumbe? Will they find the treasure? And what happens when they are caught in a hurricane? Author Robert Lewis Taylor (1912 – 1998) won the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 1958 novel The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. A Journey to Matecumbe is a great adventure tale, in a humorous, even satirical, style that has been called “Twain-esque.” It is a wonderful, very well written, and entertaining book. But beyond this, it is extensively researched historical fiction. I found Uncle Jim’s observation on taxes quite interesting, saying that people “just settle dully into the notion that their government is something apart from themselves, higher and bigger, and full of punishments and threats, rather than a poor charity body they can yank up whenever they choose.”
By way of warning, there are references to using tobacco, drinking alcohol, and even getting drunk. Some descriptive, though not overly graphic, scenes of violence with shooting and killing occur. Besides a few common euphemisms, the “d” and “h” words are sometimes used, the names of “God” and “Lord” appear as interjections, and the vulgar term “arse” is found once. And child-like Davey makes a few naïve comments about “adult” situations like an unwed pregnancy. To be fair, this book was not written for children. And to be honest, I recently read a book, Spurt by Chris Miles, aimed at young people which contains far more and worse bad language. A Journey to Matecumbe was made into a 1976 American family adventure film by Walt Disney Productions called Treasure of Matecumbe about a boy and his companion who run away from home to hunt for treasure. We watched the movie and enjoyed it. Subsequent editions of the book were also entitled Treasure of Matecumbe.