Saturday, July 07, 2007

Victory by Susan Cooper - review

Victory by Susan Cooper. Age 9-15. When I was a kid, I read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series at least once a year starting in 5th grade. There's a movie on the way, a movie that apparently shits all over the plot and characters, which is a damn shame, because they're wonderful. My imagination developed like a print in a darkroom because of those books.

Now, I clearly remember that it was 5th grade when I first read The Dark is Rising, because I did a book report on it for Mrs. Milloff's class. Mrs. Milloff was really large and really very short, and kind of grey and hairy to boot, plus she had a fierce New York accent. She would have easily fit in at Hogwarts. Maybe that's where she's teaching now. I liked her, and oh sure, she was unforgettable.

So it was with some surprise that I spotted Victory by Susan Cooper on the New Books shelf. I mean, 5th grade was 30 years ago I am shocked to realize. It's the same Susan Cooper, I checked. But this book is not about semi-mystical peril in the Welsh countryside, it's about Admiral Nelson. Ugh you say. Certainly Ugh I said. Naval history, god, I think only my father reads it, and I'm pretty sure he reads it so that he'll have at least one subject that he is sure to know more about than anyone within earshot.

But I read it out of loyalty to Susan Cooper, and it turned out to be a real page-turner. It's told by alternating narrators: Sam, a young crewmember on board Victory, Admiral Nelson's ship; and Molly, a lonely 21st century girl recently transplanted to Connecticut from her home in England. The descriptions are vivid and believable and the action is quick and exciting. As with many novels based on actual events, the book has to go to some manufactured lengths to inject suspense towards the end, but that is a very minor issue that most kid readers will not resent. And that cover, well, it's handsome, but a bit cryptic for my younger patrons.

Victory takes pride of place on my list of historical fiction to recommend to young readers who either like historical fiction or are required to read some for school. Thumbs up.