© Julia Jones, cover illustration © Claudia Myatt.
Not long ago I read and reviewed “The Salt-Stained Book.” This is the second book of the Strong Winds trilogy, with the third due out this year. What Julia Jones is creating owes a lot to the childrens’ novels of Arthur Ransome, and elements of Ransome’s books run throughout these, but in many ways she has gone in her own direction, telling stories of children not only in a modern world containing cell phones, computers and the internet, but children who have been trapped in a web of social services run amuck. Donny, the main character, is a boy who had been in foster care, but is now in the care of his great-aunt Ellen, returned from many years in southeast asia in her Chinese junk (a sailing vessel). Donny’s mother, who is deaf and in a somewhat dubious mental state has also rejoined them, released from a mental hospital. Aunt Ellen is a famous person, which has given her some power over the authorities that have been persecuting her relatives, but as soon as the reporters leave, more subtle persecutions continue.
Fortunately Donny has made some good friends in the English seaside community where they’ve ended up. Two girls, Xanthe and Maggi, who have taught him to sail and whose parents are strong allies, and Anna, another girl in foster care whose skill in managing adults and working with computers have come in quite handy. The social service machine is relentless, though, made worse by a policeman who seems to have it in for Donny and his family for reasons they don’t understand. And there are new enemies joining the forces against them, enemies that may have connections to both Aunt Ellen’s past in China and the parents of some of the other foster children. Against this menacing background, Donny and his family must try to build a new life together, and Donny and Anna are also trying to solve the mystery of Anna’s missing mother.
This is a great read. My one problem with it is that the kids rarely seem to have any time to relax and have a bit of fun. There are a few moments of sailing or parties where troubles are briefly left behind, but too few. This is something Arthur Ransome never failed to provide in his books, even in ones like “The Big Six,” where, similarly, the main characters were under suspicion by the law. Toward the end of the story it becomes more of a treasure hunt mystery, though still with lots of tension and suspense. That part worked well for me. And in all it’s a fine series. I’m certainly looking forward to the third one.
While I bought the paperback of the first book, I bought and read this one on my iPad, through Amazon’s Kindle app. Worked fine, and I may well do the same for the third book. The only slight drawback is the maps are strangely small, and not that convenient to turn to as I would with a paper book.