Monday, November 22, 2010

Clearing Weather, by Cornelia Meigs

I have to admit that I dreaded this one. My last experience with Cornelia Meigs was simply dreadful and I couldn't believe it when I saw that she was on the Newbery list a minimum of three times. But this one is infinitely better, and totally in keeping with the unmistakable bias toward seafaring-themed books that I've noticed in the 1920s.

As in The Great Quest, we have a nephew who lives in a coastal Massachusetts town (Branscomb) in the care of his uncle. Nicholas Drury is tending to the affairs of his uncle, Thomas, who is ill and unable to tend to his home, The Blackbird Inn, and his shipyard. Unfortunately, since the Revolutionary War (in the not so distant past), the demand for new ships has dropped. The town, which depends on the shipbuilding business, is in danger of becoming destitute, and Nicholas is in the unfortunate position of writing the notice declaring the business's bankruptcy. However, he becomes distracted noticing footprints in the frost on the grass in his yard and investigates.

Nicholas makes the acquaintance of Etienne Bardeau, a Frenchman, and his friend from the Carolinas, Michael. He's been in hiding on this side of the Atlantic because he possesses evidence that Darius Cortland, a local businessman, actively supported Britain and sabotaged the colonists during the Revolution. Unfortunately, Mr. Cortland is a very influential man and he has been pursuing Etienne to keep him silent. Before escaping on a ship, Etienne passes this evidence on to Nicholas.

Rather than letting down the town and his uncle, and letting the estate pass into the hands of Mr. Cortland, Nicholas and Michael create a plan. They decide to design and build the grandest ship ever produced in Branscomb. The townspeople will all participate by contributing materials, labor, and staff. The ship will then set sail in hopes of turning a profit.

The remainder of the book follows the progress of the town wondering when, or if, the Jocasta will ever return. It also chronicles the two-year voyage of the ship. Rather than head to Europe as most trading ships would have done, the crew headed to the Caribbean, up the west coast, and eventually to China.

This volume was *much* better than the author's previous book. It does have unfortunate instances of sexism/racism which were common for the times. But a great adventure story.

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