Review Blog

May 17 2013

To brave the seas by David McRobbie

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743313077
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Novel. Merchant Navy. World War Two. When his mother dies, and his father decides to leave for work in Glasgow, Adam is at a loss, but buoyed by stories of the Merchant Navy, he joins up, appearing at the nearby Liverpool Docks, ready for work. But it is 1940, and German submarines are plying the sea routes between England and North America, and Adam's first ship is part of a convoy headed west. Battling seasickness and getting used to his new role on board, as Peggy, the lowest of the jobs, taking meals across a cold wet deck to the mess, fetching and carrying hot cups of tea, everything is new to him. But he survives, partly through the kindness of the other sailors who help him, teaching him the way of the ship and the new set of words to learn, and his own tenacity.
This most unusual background will entice readers to hear of the war from quite a different perspective. McRobbie's Merchant Navy background comes to the fore as we learn incidentally about what the ships did during the war, evading Uboats to get supplies to England. Adam is a likeable young man who holds the reader's attention to the end.
Crossing the Atlantic, they are torpedoed and scuttle onto the lifeboats to try and survive. When all luck has run out they are rescued when a passing ship, abandoned by its crew, becomes their new home. They take control and steer it to a port, only to be chastised for blocking the sea way. Later they are in harbour in neutral Portugal, when the captain decides that they will do something about the German submarine moored nearby.
An adventure story which gives a great deal of information about the Merchant Navy and the men who sailed during the war, this book will readily find a place in the reading list of schools, libraries and students, wanting something a little different from the huge range of books about war on offer at the moment. At the end of the book, McRobbie includes a list of all the words Adam must learn, and devotes several pages to the facts of the Merchant Navy and its role in wartime history.
Fran Knight

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