Told through the eyes of Prudence and Justice (two imaginary Pilgrim children), this novel tells the tale of the famous crossing, beginning with the ill-fated Speedwell and ending with the successful landing of the Mayflower in Virginia. Gay does an excellent job of helping us picture and feel what it must have been like for the Pilgrims: How stale the air was beneath decks. How it smelled. How cold or hot it was. How awful the food and shelter were. Just how disgusting the water was. And so on. He also does an excellent job showing the Pilgrims as strong Bible-believers who lived their faith each and every day.
For example, one of the Mayflower's sailors likes to taunt and frighten Prudence and Justice, but when their father protects them from a lashing by the man, the sailor not only blasphemes God repeatedly, but abuses and curses the Pilgrims in every way possible. Truly, the children - and probably the adults - fear for their lives. Yet when that same sailor comes down with a fever, the children's father doesn't hesitate to go to him, see to his physical needs, and pray for him.
Repeatedly throughout the book, we read the Pilgrims quoting the Bible, and doing their best to obey God. We also learn a tiny bit about the Mayflower Compact, and about how ships navigated in the 17th century. Periodically, throughout the book, simple black and white drawings by Sandra Evans add a little interest.
What I Like: I'm a history buff, so any novel covering such an important event as the Mayflower crossing intrigues me. I love how the author tells this story through the eyes of children, and there are some nice moments of writing, too. For example, when speaking of the frightening sailor, Gay writes:
"One soft and sunny afternoon, when the children were happily settled in their special haunt, he came upon them. His shadow fell across them. They peered up. He stood, he positively towered above them - and evil, ugly giant - his legs wide apart and his hands upon his hips. His pimpled face was hard. He had a vicious look about his eyes."What I Dislike: Unfortunately, much of Gay's writing is dull - primarily because his style is a bit verbose and his dialogue repetitive. He also sometimes relies on inaccurate legend, saying, for example, the Pilgrims dressed all in black and white. And, oddly, he doesn't explain some details. For example, he tells the famous story of the Pilgrims and sailors repairing the Mayflower with a jack screw, but doesn't explain what a jack screw is, what it normally would be used for, or why one of the Pilgrims would bring it aboard. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised how willing my 4 year old was to listen to me read this book aloud.
Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: 9 - 12.
Publishing Info: Banner of Truth, 1984; ISBN: 978-0851513843; paperback, $10.00