Reflections by award-winning maritime historian Joan Druett, author of many books about the sea
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Thursday, May 14, 2015
KIRKUS reviews WATER GHOSTS
In Collison’s (Star-Crossed, 2006, etc.) YA adventure, a teen on a character-building excursion at sea faces challenges larger than getting along with his crewmates when the spirit of a destructive ancient Chinese ghost appears.
James McCafferty has the bad luck to be shanghaied by his mother and her boyfriend and sent aboard the Chinese junk Good Fortune. He is not a happy sailor. While the other teens possess what might pass as conventional behavior problems—the bookish boy obsessed with weapons, the tattooed punk girl, the adopted Asian kleptomaniac, the bully and his minions—James is different. He isn’t a bad kid; he just sees and hears dead people, who now pursue the Good Fortune as it wanders to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Yu Chin, the spirit of a 700-year-old Chinese eunuch in the imperial court, talks to James, berates him as a weakling, then tells him his plan to take over his body and send him to hell. Until then, readers’ are treated to plenty of irreverent Holden Caulfield–like wit along with James’ spot-on observations, which seem to keep him afloat as the situation takes on water. When the chipper youth counselor Marty—“a continuous public service announcement”—and first mate Miles disappear and Capt. Dan, who “looks more like somebody’s fat, stoned uncle,” dies, the ship is inexorably drawn toward a fate that involves a parallel spirit world and an ancient Chinese power struggle. The abandoned teens don’t become as feral as those in The Lord of the Flies; instead, their camaraderie comes in handy just as a ghost armada raises itself from the deep. Much interesting information on Chinese sailing ships and mythology is introduced, and while not all of it is essential to the plot, Collison deftly prevents the info from talking down to young readers or encumbering the story.