I've mentioned this before, but let me repeat myself...a test of a good book...particularly a good historical fiction book is when the reader picks up a book ABOUT a subject or event that they have had little or no interest in reading about before and having the book completely draw them in. In that regards, BLACK DUCK by Janet Taylor Lisle is a great book.
Lisle, Janet Taylor. 2006. BLACK DUCK.
On December 30, 1929, the Coast Guard killed three suspected rum-runners on the vessel Black Duck which they claim failed to stop (and surrender) when warning shots were fired. This newspaper account in the Newport Daily Journal introduces us to the book Black Duck. David Peterson is a young boy in town looking for a story. He dreams of one day being a journalist. And he is looking for any chance to get away from the family business of lawn care. So David is a boy on a mission:
A rumrunner had lived in town, one of the notorious outlaws who smuggled liquor during the days of Prohibition, that was the rumor...Someone said to ask at the general store across from the church. It would be a miracle if the man was still alive, David thought. He'd be over eighty. If he were anywhere, he'd probably be in a nursing home by now. But it turned out he wasn't. He still lived in town. Ruben Hart was his name. The number listed in the telephone book doesn't answer. There is an address, though. (3).
Looking for a story to report, he finds so much more. He finds a story that has yet to be told. Ruben Hart was just a young boy at the time. He had no intentions of participating in anything illegal. Witnessing anything illegal. But sometimes you don't have a choice. When Ruben and his friend discovered a dead body on the beach...it was the beginning of a sometimes dangerous, sometimes exciting adventure. It is book about decisions. Ethical decisions. Moral decisions. Taking a stand. Is Ruben the kind of boy who sees things as black and white? Or is he the kind of boy who sees a gray foggy area between the two? Friendships of all sorts will be formed and tested throughout the course of the novel.
The framework of the story is integral. Ruben is fleshing out stories that no one else knows. He's going beyond the meager facts of a few newspaper articles. He's going back to the beginning...well his beginning of the story. As he shares his story from the summer of 1929 through that fateful December day, he's sharing his life story with David. It's a process that is connecting the two, forming a new friendship. Fulfilling needs neither one was aware of. But it's a beautiful thing. A healing thing.
Behind the scenes of my reading (selection) process....OR why I loved to be surprised
Here are four of the reasons why I picked up this book I was uninterested in...
1) It appeared on Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2006
2) It appeared on the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA 2007) list
3) It appeared on the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2006 list
4) It appeared on the Texas Lonestar Reading List for 2007-2008.
The fifth reason I picked up this 'uninteresting' book was because it was available at my local library and it was one of the few 2006 titles left on the shelves. (At least that I hadn't already read in previous months.)
My only other exposure to this book was by reading The Golden Fuse Awards 2006. (Fuse #8's personal picks of the year.) It was mentioned as one of the books in the category of: The "Kids Really Want To Read About This?" Trend.
So I knew when I saw the book on the shelf that I would check it out. I knew that I would read it. But I didn't expect much from it. I didn't expect to hate it. But I didn't expect to love it either. Here is what the back cover says:
What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wondered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.
It is further described in these ways:
History and mystery collide in a gripping saga of rum-running on the Rhode Island coast during the 1920s.
Inspired by very real accounts of the Black Duck, a legendary rum-running boat that worked the New England shores during the era, Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle has written a colorful, original work of historical fiction.
Those blurbs and the cover weren't enough to catch my eye. But as previously stated the fact that it appeared on four "best of the year" lists convinced me that this was a book worthy of review for this blog.
Let me just say how wonderful it was to be surprised by a book. I didn't just like BLACK DUCK. I absolutely LOVED Black Duck. I thought it was great. I loved so much about it. I loved the framework of the story. I loved the intergenerational aspects of the novel. I loved the storytelling format of the novel. Most of all I love how this novel unfolds bit by bit. Even though as a reader you know you're building your way up to the killing/murder on December 30th....the story was suspenseful to me. You still didn't know the how or why of it. The characters were wonderful. You saw how everyone was struggling. On one hand, money was scarce. It was not easily come by. Yet by either looking the other way or pretending you didn't see what you saw you could make a few bucks OR you could even go so far as to help the bootleggers and make enough money to support your whole family. A hard choice. Do you watch your family live in poverty...always wanting or needing a little more than they have? Is it better to follow the laws? Or do you adopt the philosophy...well what is it really hurting anyone if I break a few laws now and then. Half of Ruben's neighbors seemed to be on the side that was beyond bribery or temptation. Half were not. But there were very few truly bad characters. Everyone was doing what they felt was right for them. They might not be understood by the other side. But they were following their own consciences. Some decisions. Some actions had some unpleasant consequences. But it was always a very thoughtful (thought-filled) book.
Interview with Janet Taylor Lisle about Black Duck
(I also just learned that it was A 2006 Junior Library Guild selection.)