Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Will Northaway: The Quest for Liberty

Will Northaway is alone and homeless, living along the wharves of London in Susan Olasky's novel Will Northaway: The Quest for Liberty. Will thinks he's getting along just fine living off fish scraps - until a nobleman gets into an embarrassing situation and blames Will for it. Will quickly learns that in 18th century England, the poor are automatically guilty. After a severe beating by Redcoats, Will flees his home country.

Learning his father - whom he's never met - may be in Boston, Will finds a job aboard a ship headed to the city. Once in Boston, Will gets a job as a printer's apprentice - working hard for only room and board.

Will also seeks out his father, but the man turns out to be a drunk brute. Bitterly, Will resolves never to see him again. But when his father calls for him on his death bed, Will comes - even if he does conclude his father isn't worth forgiving.

What I Like: This slim, well-written novel provides many great details about life in London and Boston in the 1700s. We get a glimpse of the lack of freedom many people experienced in England, what life was like for so many poor children, and what it was like to be an apprentice in Boston. I learned some interesting facts about 18th century sailing, too. (Did you know captains made sure their men's knives - essential for the trade - had their ends cut off so the sailors were less likely to murder each other?) We also learn a small amount about the first stirrings that lead to the Revolution, with characters like Paul Revere and Sam Adams playing small roles in the novel.

Throughout, God is shown as an important part of life. For example, most of the sailors do not work on the Sabbath, and the sailors thank God for mercifully saving them after a storm. Later, the woman Will lives with worries her brother will catch small pox, but her son reminds her God is in control. After Will's father dies, the doctor also tries to help the troubled Will come to terms with who his father is:
"But if you're completely honest...you're probably not all that much different than your pa...I don't mean that you're bad because he was bad; I only mean to say that none of us is blameless...Christ died for [your pa], and for me, and...for you. I'm saying that before you refuse to forgive him, you might want to examine yourself. A day may come when you will need forgiveness from someone."
What I Dislike: This book ends so abruptly, and on a negative note. Will determines not to forgive his father, and to focus on work. The end. I suspect this book was originally longer, but was chopped up into several books in order to create a series. Still, some sort of ending to make it harder for me to resist the next book in the series would have been far better.

Parents s
hould also know drinking is depicted throughout the book, because drinking was such a big part of life for the poor in the 18th century. Will himself drinks once or twice, but he never gets drunk. Pope's Day Celebration (Guy Fawkes Day) also plays heavily in the plot of this book; the author never really explains this once-important day, although she does talk about marauding men carrying dummies of the Pope throughout the streets. The day comes to an abrupt end for Will when his father accidentally runs down and kills a young boy.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: 9 - 12, according to the publisher, but some slightly younger kids will enjoy this book, too.

Publishing Info: Crossway, 2004; ISBN: 978-1581344752; paperback, $5.99

Buy Now at Amazon.com for $5.99

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