Being one to judge a book by its cover I picked Patricia Strefling’s Stowaway Heart up with the expectations of it being an 1870-ish (note the style of dress and hair on the cover art) sea story with maybe a sure-of-herself heroine — hey, you can read a lot into that cover. Boy, was I wrong. Rather this is the tale of an innocent 15-year old in 1814.
Francine Louise Devin is left orphaned after her parents are both killed. Fending for herself, “Frannie” stows away aboard a France-bound ship with the hopes of making it to Bordeaux where her aunt lives. Frannie is soon found by the temperamental captain, Calvert Caldwell, who grudgingly takes her under his wing. When the ship finally makes port in France, Frannie is placed in the employ of Caldwell’s fickle fiancée ashore. There Frannie receives meager pay under the woman which she puts toward passage to Bordeaux. But after Frannie unwittingly exposes her employer’s scheming and deceitful plans, she is fired and sent to live with the woman’s aunt. There Frannie develops a friendship with the older woman while awaiting the day when she finally leaves for Bordeaux. When that day finally arrives Frannie is in for one wild adventure.
This was not a favorite of mine. The story line dragged and I felt some areas were overly descriptive and that the writing style was rather amateurish (although it is evident that the author is no amateur!). The characters lacked – well – character, with maybe the exception of Caldwell. The dialogue was ho-hum and practically non-existent (and I love dialogue). But it is, er, interestingly worded. Take this for example. Frannie has just appeared at the home of her aunt to find that the dear lady died about a year earlier. In the process of shooing his niece away, Frannie’s uncle says “Now go and change and we’ll discuss this later. Your Aunt Elizabeth is a beautiful woman [he has since remarried] and I can’t keep her waiting”. Really? She’s beautiful so she can’t be kept waiting? So if she was ugly she could be left waiting until the cows came home? In the next few pages you understand what is meant is that she is a temperamental and jealous woman. One more point — I was also curious about the use of dollars since the story is taking place in France. And what about the screened doors?
There is a solid Christian theme running through the story, however. With the exception of a certain incident which can be easily skipped this could probably qualify as a story which a family can enjoy together. Slightly in the style of Elsie Dinsmore stories, to give you an idea, just not as well written.
Three out of five stars. I don’t feel as if I have wasted my time reading this book, but I do feel a wee bit disappointed after coming away from it.
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