Yesterday the teen book groups met, and my group discussed L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack.Â Though they’re usually a very talkative group, there were many silences in the course of this book discussion, and towards the end of the meeting we all agreed that perhaps that was because there just isn’t too much to discuss in Bloody Jack.Â Not one of us had a strong opinion either for or against the book, which is rare.
What is Bloody Jack?Â Set in 1797 – 1799, it’s a tale about a young orphaned girl who has lived on the streets since the death of her parents and sister from the plague, begging for food with the company of a gang of fellow orphans.Â When the leader of the gang is murdered, Mary decides to take on his identity (strips his body naked and steals his clothes) and go to sea as a boy in order to get off the streets and leave that life behind her.Â Since she can read, she’s taken on by a Royal Navy ship as a ship’s boy, and embarks on a two year journey living a life of deception as she bonds with the other ship’s boys (falling in love with one of them), learns the workings of a ship, beats the ship’s drum during battles with pirates, fends off a would-be rapist, and kills two men – one the rapist, one a pirate.Â After a particularly bloody battle with a pirate, the battle-scarred ship is close to sinking and must be beached on the shore of a deserted island.Â Through an odd plot twist that involves Mary (known on the ship as Jack, or Jacky) being strapped to a large kite and unintentionally flown to another island, Mary/Jack becomes the hero of the ship.Â She leads her shipmates to the island, which has the wood needed to repair the ship, and somehow the evil pirate shows up, too, and her shipmates are able to kill the pirate while rescuing her and discovering that she is a woman.Â After this discovery, the captain determines that Mary/Jack will be put off in Boston and sent to a boarding school for young ladies.
I had expected a rollicking good read when I picked up this book, but was surprised by Meyer’s preoccupation with Mary/Jack’s sexual development.Â After a hundred pages or so, I was pretty sick of hearing about how she dealt with the unknown of menstruation and the deception of peeing inÂ the head on an all-maleÂ ship when you’re not a man.Â Yes, these details needed to be smoothed out and addressed in order for the book to “work,” but enough already.Â More action, please!Â And I truly disliked the subplot of Mary/Jack’s love for her fellow ship’s boy Jaimy, a love that ultimately is returned when Jaimy learns of her true identity.Â There was something about Mary/Jack’s discussion of her hormonally charged feelings for and encounters with Jaimy that creeped me out, frankly.Â Blech.Â
So the book fell flat for me, and didn’t thrill the teen book group.Â Not that we hated it, or anything…it just didn’t capture our hearts and attention.Â
Next up for this group, thanks to K.’s excellent suggestion:Â The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.Â If the movie is still in theaters, Jim and I will have an excuse to go to the movies, too!