Setting Sail is the debut novel by Eric C. Geary and the first book in his Free Pirates For Hire series. It takes us back to a nostalgiac time in children’s fantasy where stories are for entertainment, to stimulate the imagination and help develop reading skills and an eagerness for more rather than the more recent push to make everything a life lesson, to help prepare children for the fact that the world is not always a fun and safe place. It is a refreshing move away from the Grimm fairy tales and towards the Peter Pans and Pippi Longstockings of our past.
A Pirate’s Life For Her
Setting Sail tells the story of young Dawnya, an adventurous young girl who discovers that her Great Uncle Hedry was in fact also the famed pirate captain Derith, and that he has left to her his pirate legacy including his ship, maps, and island hideaway. She embarks on a journey of adventure and discovery as she learns how to be a pirate on the high seas. This is exactly the kind of adventure we all fantasized about as a child, when pirates, astronauts and ninjas were the coolest possible future jobs, and the fact that we didn’t know the first thing about what it was really like didn’t hamper us in the least. In our minds we beat the bad guys, steal the treasure, and get home in time for supper, and that’s exactly what Setting Sail delivers.
It’s refreshing to see a children’s book with a female protagonist who discovers and desires something besides princesshood or a handsome husband. There are plenty of girls in the world who are just as eager for a serious adventure as the boys are. As much as we’re seeing a stronger presence of female protagonists in fantasy, it’s always so dangerous to try and strike a balance between “strong” female characters and only distinguishing them from strong male characters by skin-tight outfits and lower-back tattoos. Having Dawnya be young helps make it so she can be strong without being sexualized, and I think that’s important for kids today given the messages they’re getting from the rest of popular media.
But is life too easy?
My only real criticism of this book is that it might be a little too simple, too easy. While I think it’s valuable and refreshing to see the Peter Pan style of ‘Everything always works out’ storytelling, there was such a dearth of challenge and conflict as to make it seem a little too unrealistic. This young girl discovers she owns a pirate ship, and on her quest to get the ship and start her life as a pirate, everybody she runs into is friendly, sincere, and eager to join her crew. She collects her crew, her ship, and her island hideaway, all without any real hitch or any troubles that aren’t easily overcome.
On the one hand, this is exactly how our fantasies go at the age we should be reading this book. No eight-year old dreaming of being a cowboy thinks about how expensive a horse is, or ten year old would-be astronaut how many years of training and education are required to even set foot into a spaceship. We want to climb into a cardboard box, close our eyes, and be on the moon. But on the other hand… there’s a reason there’s been a bit more of a move towards more realistic storytelling even for children: The world is in rough shape, and it’s helpful to have your eyes opened to that in a safe environment where it IS unfair to be a kid sometimes. Sometimes the bad guy looks like he’s going to win and there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Why should you read this book (to your child)?
This book exists right on the tipping point of ‘children’s fantasy’ and ‘young adult fantasy’ that doesn’t seem to have much available. For the chlid just graduating from being read to, to reading a book on their own where Captain Underpants doesn’t seem quite like what you’re looking for, this is a great choice. It’s fun, exciting, easy to understand, and interesting without being dark or gloomy. It has a strong female protagonist who gets out into the world, has fun, has adventures, and heads home in time for supper. For any child who daydreams about swinging from the yardarm, sword in hand to steal the pirate treasure, this is the book for you. It might be a little simple, it might be a little idealistic, but in this day and age, that may be exactly what you need.