Star-CrossedI think it's important that there be books written specifically for "Young Adults" (even if the phrase itself is oxymoronic) as well as for girls. Young folks generally, and girls specifically, should be able to discover the joy of reading in books that are designed to engage their interests, concerns, sensibilities and viewpoints. However, I think that those of us who are not young, and not girls, can also enjoy these books -- at least the good ones. I do. Just as a for-instance, I read the first twenty or so Tamora Pierce novels along with my (then) adolescent daughter. We both enjoyed them (although maybe in different ways) and it was a great experience for both of us to talk them over.

Linda Collison, in Star-Crossed, puts a young woman aboard Royal Navy ships and creates a YA girl’s book in the Historic Naval Fiction genre. The historic side is genuine and well-handled, although the focus is (for the better, IMO) just a bit different from most HNF. The reader is never involved in tactics, much less strategy – our view is limited to that of Patricia Kelley, who, like most of the crew of a naval ship, only experiences her little piece of a hugely complex machine. The book is no less lively and fascinating for that. Collison has real understanding of the workings of a ship and a gift for describing them. Kelley’s first time aloft is given in a marvelous passage that combines accurate technical information (ratlines, shrouds, futtocks, etc.) with her thoughts and emotions. Collison also uses Kelley’s fresh eyes to great effect in describing life aboard ship, gunnery and, above all, shipboard medicine.

Patricia Kelley is orphaned and stows away on a bark under contract to the Royal Navy in an attempt to reach Barbados to claim her inheritance. She is, of course, discovered and spends the rest of the book (since the inheritance comes to naught) trying to find a way to make a life in her new shipboard world. There were not many options open to women who chose to work on ships. The most common (or at least the most commonly documented) was to work in an unpaid and unrecognized capacity as the wife or protégée of one of the ship’s warrant officers. Kelley soon finds a place working for the ship’s surgeon. Collison devotes some of her best writing to a vivid and unflinching exploration of a surgeon’s duties. We experience not only the treatment of battle wounds, but the horror of “yellow jack” and the other diseases that killed far more soldiers and sailors than all the battles put together.

Early in the book, Kelley talks to some sailors about the less accepted ways that a woman might live on a ship. She hears tales of women disguised as men who serve as crew members as well as of famous pirate leaders like Anne Bonney. She declares that she is no freebooter, but when she loses the protection of her surgeon, Kelley disguises herself as a man and signs onto a frigate as a surgeon’s mate. She shares her secret only with the handsome gunner that she loves. At one point, a wise old slave woman sees through the disguise and asks Kelley why she is dressed like a boy. She replies simply, “Because it suits me.” Collison has given an eighteenth-century girl the twenty-first century determination to make her own way, live life on her own terms and not to be defined in terms of who her husband might be. Patriarchal history has not been kind to any such women who may have actually existed, but I don’t think Collison’s point is an indictment of history. Star-Crossed offers a fine adventure, an un-romanticised look at shipboard and shoreside life in the 18th century, and an invitation to consider gender issues that may not always be in the forefront of our thoughts. Her website promises two more books in “The Star-Crossed Trilogy.” I await them eagerly.

Description of: Star-Crossed

Author: Linda Collison

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