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Cannonball Read IV: The Girl Crusoes by Herbert Strang

By BoatGirl | Books | February 7, 2012 |

By BoatGirl | Books | February 7, 2012 |

I purchased a B&N Nook when I began bus and bicycle commuting rather than driving to work last summer. The Nook is lighter and easier to carry around than regular books, plus I can add books to it from a computer or wireless at home. The downside to it is that buying the books for it is much more expensive than my previous method of acquiring books via, friends, second hand stores, or if worse came to worse, thrown out by someone at the marina.

Happily, I found, where I can download all the Wodehouse my heart desires. I have also started doing what I like to call ‘Gutenberg Roulette,’ in which I pick one of the books shown on their front page as ‘Some of Our Latest Books.’ Published in London in 1912, “The Girl Crusoes: A Story of the South Seas” by Mrs. Herbert Strang, is one of my Gutenberg Roulette books. (Wikipedia informs me that Herbert Strang was the nom de plume of two male authors who wrote adventure books for boys under the name Herbert Strang and for girls under the name Mrs. Herbert Strang.)

So, I am perhaps a little older than the target audience, but considering how frequently nowadays adults unapologetically read YA novels, I read it and have to say it was charming and I enjoyed it.

The book starts as all the best do, with an orphaning. Three teenage sisters are left orphaned on the heavily in-debt family farm in England, with no clear means of support. Luckily, their one surviving relative is a sea captain and this Uncle Ben returns to help them. He plans to retire after the next voyage, but in the meantime, the girls must accompany him and off they all go, sailing around the world. All goes smoothly and they enjoy the trip, until a massive storm in the South Pacific shipwrecks the three sisters on a tropical island. Luckily, Elizabeth the eldest is sensible and kind, Mary the middle is bookish and learned, and Tommy the youngest is plucky and adventurous. They are determined to survive the jungle, a diet of fish, bananas, oranges and coconuts, and the inevitable natives.

One of the things that I found fascinating was the casual racism, even though the book showed a native viewpoint that I think was ahead of its time. For instance, when the girls meet and rescue a young Pacific Island girl, she is discussed as a pet, and compared to a tamed parrot, and the indigenous peoples are referred to throughout as ‘savages.’ However, her grandfather says about white people that: “Since they came to the Pacific the brown people had not been happy. They had been forced to work; some had been taken from their own islands and carried away to toil on distant plantations; new diseases had been brought among them.” (p. 114) I would expect to see the grandfather’s views in a modern book, but I thought that 100 years ago, the accepted Western view was that the ‘savages’ were happy to be ‘civilized.’

Was this book classic literature? No. But I like to think that this story of adventure, survival and courage, written for girls, may have helped young women grow up to be suffragettes.

This book (and many other delightful free e-books) can be found at Project Gutenberg.

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of BoatGirl’s reviews on the group blog.

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