We Are Pirates
Expected release date: February 3, 2015
290 pages (ARC e-book)
Let’s face it: a big bonus of having a book blog is getting lots of great free books. In fact, you get so many offers of books that you have to be picky (or, in my case, maybe even a little bitchy) when it comes to creating a book-review policy. Generally speaking, I will accept an ARC (advanced readers copy) only if it meets one of these two criteria:
- It’s by an author whose work I have previously read and enjoyed (I just got a copy of Ann Packer’s soon-to-be-released book, The Children’s Crusade, which I can’t wait to read); or
- I read the publisher’s blurb or an author request, and the book sounds unusually interesting or appealing (this is why I chose to read The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, both of which I really enjoyed).
When you’re reading an ARC, you don’t have the benefit of knowing the hype (professional reviews/ratings, popular reviews, etc.) before you start reading. You’re basically going in blind and hoping for the best. I have found that strict adherence to these criteria helps weed out the worst of the worst. These criteria give me a fighting chance of hitting on something good (and not wasting reading time on something boring or convoluted or just plain crappy).
Unfortunately, sometimes even these criteria can fail me. Take, for example, We Are Pirates, the soon-to-be-released book by Daniel Handler, which met both of my criteria.
You may not be familiar with Daniel Handler’s work (his quirky—and award-winning—illustrated YA book, Why We Broke Up, is definitely worth a read), but surely you will recognize him by his pseudonym: Lemony Snicket. I am a big fan of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a thirteen-book set of darkly hilarious kids’ books. They are funny and odd and slightly macabre—a delightful combination.
Handler/Snicket has a unique voice and employs witty and distinct turns-of-phrase. His books tend to be very quick and fun to read. So, criteria #1 was met. Resoundingly.
As for criteria #2, I’ll let you be the judge. Here is the publisher’s blurb:
A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.
Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.
Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.
Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.
Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.
We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.
Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.
For me, the blurb’s last paragraph had me hooked. This sounded like typical Handler/Snicket fare. The premise is a little crazy and far-fetched, but it promised to be exciting and funny and a tiny bit touching.
So, with both of my criteria met, I was excited to read this book. Pirates! Blood in the water! Treasure hunts and plundering on the open sea! All by a great author and master of fun, quirky adventure. Sound the trumpets!!
Gwen is a pissy (and typical) fourteen-year-old. She fights loudly and frequently with her mom. She gets caught shop-lifting and is forced to volunteer at an old-folks’ home as penance. She has an unrequited crush on a cute boy. She has a mean best friend. Just when things are seeming super tragic for Gwen, she meets a new friend. Together they convince an old guy and an orderly from the home to hit the high seas for adventure, plundering, mayhem . . . and even murder.
The Gwen part of the book is actually pretty good. It is exciting, surprising, silly, and sad. But Gwen’s story is only half of the book. The other half focuses on her dad, Phil, a radio producer in an unhappy marriage who fantasizes about his new assistant and dreams of making a hit radio show about an obscure old musician. Phil is clueless and sad and a big loser. Unlike Gwen, he is not a sympathetic character. At all. I didn’t care a bit about Phil or his misadventures or his bad decisions.
There are moments in this book that have the distinct Handler/Snicket writing style that I love (little witty quirks and funny one-liners), but, in large part, the book is jumbled and messy. It inexplicably starts after the piracy has taken place, which is confusing and serves no purpose. It unsuccessfully jumps from one point-of-view (or place in time) to another rapidly, jerkily, and without context—sometimes mid-paragraph. There were several instances when I had to re-read paragraphs to understand what the hell was going on. There seems to be little change or resolution with the characters. This is a retelling of a ridiculous and horrifying time that should have affected them a great deal . . . but, as it is told, it seems like the events had little bearing on their lives.
In short, this is a book that did not live up to its potential. Sad.
Oh, and one final beef: I don’t think I’m an obtuse reader . . . but I have absolutely no idea who the narrator of this book is supposed to be. There are only a few very random references to him (when he speaks in first person and is attending a BBQ at the Needles’ house). If anyone else has read this book and can help me out with that, I’d greatly appreciate your insight.
Who should read it: I think Handler/Snicket’s work is definitely worth reading . . . just not this one. Try the first few books in Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events instead.
DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Bloomsburg USA, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (an Amazon Best Book of the month for December 2014 and an Indie Next List pick for December 2014 by the author of The Red Tent)
- Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014)