Recommended for Grades 6-8Mary Beth
Friday, July 9, 2010
Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle
There are two parallel stories in this book. The modern story serves as a segway for the legendary story of the rum running ship called the Black Duck. The story begins with David Peterson, a boy who wants to be a reporter; however he will be unsuccessful unless he can report on a good story. Determined, David sets off to find and interview, Ruben Hart, an elder man rumored to have been a rumrunner. This interview takes the reader back to Ruben’s youth when Ruben and his best friend Jeddy find a dead body on the Rhode Island shore. They are certain it has something to do with smuggling liquor. The timeline is set in the 1920s and Prohibition is in full swing, and almost everyone in the shore community is involved. The dead body turns out to be an important gang member, and as Reuben and Jeddy pursue answers, they are trapped in a web of deceitful activities, ending in a Coast Guard shooting. The author explores the historical subject of Prohibition as well as various underlying social themes. She shows the difficulty of staying honest when everyone else is breaking the law including the local authorities. The framing device of having the modern day boy listening to the story provides a surprise twist at the end. The characterization and suspenseful plot make this an entertaining, accessible historical mystery for middle school teens.