Let’s get the detraction out of the way first. Last year at BEA, I got a copy of Caroline Carlson’s Magic Marks the Spot and absolutely loved it. That book is about a girl who wants to be a pirate, even though the pirate league doesn’t allow girls and her father expects more feminine behavior from his heir. She is sent to a finishing school for ladies, but escapes to be a pirate. The first half of Hook’s Revenge is practically identical, adding in the difference that Jocelyn’s father is a pirate (Captain Hook) and her grandfather is the one who sends her to finishing school. Though I don’t think these similarities are nefarious, they did keep me from being as impressed with Hook’s Revenge as I otherwise might have been. I’m sure that by the time Magic Marks the Spot came out, Schulz was already well into writing Hook’s Revenge. It’s just one of those odd coincidences. I do think both are fantastic middle grades, so I suspect readers will prefer whichever one they happen to read first.
What I Liked:
Schulz makes use of a framing device, wherein the narrator of Hook’s Revenge is an irascible old pirate. Generally, I’m not one for such framing techniques, preferring to get the story more directly. Think, for example, of the horrible framing in Wuthering Heights. In this case, though, I found the conceit amusing. This poor old pirate is forced to speak to obnoxious children, aka the reader, about Jocelyn Hook’s adventures. No one who knows me is shocked that I enjoyed the pirate’s insults of kids, and I imagine young readers appreciate them as well. Plus, it’s pretty powerful that this pirate was won over by Jocelyn, despite the unfortunate fact of her being a child.
Hook’s Revenge truly is a funny read and a fun take on Peter Pan. It’s refreshing to throw a girl like Jocelyn into a story that is so boy-focused as Peter Pan. Yes, Wendy and Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell are all around, but two of them essentially work for the boys in one capacity or another. Jocelyn has much more agency and dreams of a non-traditional gender role. That’s actually one of my favorite things in fiction, particularly middle grade. I love when authors show that it’s totally cool for kids to enjoy activities that historically were not deemed acceptable for their gender. This is how minds are opened.
“I have been the headmistress of this school for nearly three decades. In that time many a young lady has appeared at my door, unrefined in either manners, appearance, or both. Not once have I failed to turn the girl into a lady worthy of her class and distinction. No exceptions.”
Miss Eliza stood a moment longer, silently appraising the girl.
“You may go now. I expect you are feeling tired from your journey.
Jocelyn gave Miss Eliza her most irksome smile and replied, “Actually, I’m feeling rather exceptional,” then turned heel and followed the chambermaid to her room, taking care to scuff her shoes on the polishes wood floor the whole way.
Quotes like this one are why I enjoyed Hook’s Revenge. There’s a lot of clever repartee. Not to mention the fact that Jocelyn is sassy as can be. She will defend her right to be who she is until her last breath, which is basically what Hook’s Revenge is about. Don’t let people put you in a box if your dream is to be on a pirate ship.
The plot is fairly episodic in nature, though with the overarching goal of becoming a pirate and obtaining Hook’s revenge on the crocodile. Along the way, Jocelyn will encounter many of the real world’s and Neverland’s dangers. She tackles each one with her adventurous spirit and clever mind. The lessons are good ones and delivered in an entertaining fashion. I think I enjoyed best the interactions, rather than the actual adventures, but that’s probably just me.
The Final Verdict:
Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz is cute and funny, an adventure for those looking for humor or who dream of the pirate life. You might, however, need to pick your poison: Magic Marks the Spot or Hook’s Revenge.