By Karen Hesse Simon & Schuster 302 pp., $17.95 Ages 9-12
Huckleberry Finn and Nicholas Young would be friends had they met. Like the mischievous boy from Missouri, the hero of Karen Hesse's "Stowaway" bolts from a troubled London home and embarks on an adventure into emotional maturity.
A distant father, a disappointing school experience, and an abusive apprenticeship with a butcher encourage 11-year-old Nicholas to steal money and stow away on the H.M.S Endeavor. Little did Nick realize The Endeavor would be made famous by the upcoming journey, sailed by Captain Cook on his late-18th-century voyage around the uncharted east coast of Australia.
Hesse constructs this fictional tale with the historical details of Cook's journey, including the mysterious appearance of one Nicholas Young in the ship's logs eight months into the trip. Hesse's use of historical facts and a bindle-full of sailors' lingo gives the book authenticity and is sure to draw young readers into a voyage they can make their own.
But history doesn't overtake this book. Nick is the focus throughout as he narrates the tale in his diary. His view of life on Cook's legendary exploration is seen through the prism of his own difficulties with family, school, and work. His immediate fear of being forsaken at a foreign port drives him to take his duties on the ship seriously. He learns a drop of independence at the right moment, which often sweetens the understanding of work.
By the time Nick returns to England, he is determined to pay his past debts. Maybe by the end of his journey, Nick would be a bit too grown up for the defiantly "unsivilized" Huck - but no less lovable.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society